Rene Woc stands backstage at Adager, but his experience
makes him a major HP 3000 player. The CEO at the markets oldest
database solution supplier, Woc directs the business operations and
market strategy for a company that defies an easy business
definition. Woc is one of the few people in the HP 3000 market still
leading the company he co-founded after more than two decades, a
company blissfully obsessed only with HP 3000 business. And no small
amount of business, either: Adager has one of the largest 3000
customer bases outside of HP itself. At one point its product was
part of the HP price list, even though Adager has been independent of
HP all along.
Woc was born in Guatemala, as was his partner Alfredo
Rego. The two men began working together on HP 3000 projects in that
country almost as soon as the computer was available. Woc points out
that the engineering firm Telectro he was leading in 1974 took
delivery of the second HP 3000 ever sold into Latin America. In those
days you had to prove to HP you were capable of owning an HP 3000
outside the US, promising to buy a second HP system for diagnostics
and stocking spare parts. It was a level of detail Woc was
comfortable with and typical of the detail that Adager
embraces while helping HP customers with database maintenance and the
occasional nightmare. His quarter-million-dollar commitment for that
128K computer showed a faith in the system that hasnt wavered
in the decades since, as Adager remains an all-3000 software
quarter-century of HP 3000 experience later, Woc is managing a
company that serves thousands of customers in 50 countries
impressive numbers when coupled with Adagers legendary lean
staffing and few offices. Instead of sinking resources into large
staff counts and many addresses, Woc and his cohorts have developed a
company that was quick to the Internet and is technology-savvy and
omnipresent in its market. Its operations are hosted on HP 3000s, a
do as I do approach not common among HP 3000
While the company was founded 21 years ago in Guatemala,
in 1988 it relocated with its development brain trust intact to Sun
Valley, Idaho. Adager located in the mountains of Idaho in a time
long before the Internet was a business tool, but kept in close
contact with its customers through a pervasive use of worldwide
toll-free technology. A comfort with technology runs all through
Wocs career, from his days programming for banking and utility
applications to the testing and quality assurance he does for Adager
along with business management.
Woc remembers attending the first user group conference
ever held for HP 3000s, at Rickys Hyatt House hotel in the
Silicon Valley just down the street from HPs corporate
headquarters in 1975. An electrical engineer by education at Santa
Clara and Stanford, Woc said the earliest HP meetings already showed
the spirit of sharing the community would become famous for. At the
advent of the 25th meeting of the HP 3000 user community in San
Francisco, we asked Woc about how past opportunities have shaped
Adagers business choices, and how he rates the current
prospects for the system and its future.
Among the Adager legends is its relative size compared to
its customer base. Why has the company remained so lean in times of
IPOs, expansions and mergers?
enjoy the journey. We enjoy doing what we do ourselves. Its all
a matter of priorities.
Your company is well into its 22nd year of continuous
service to the HP 3000 community this year. Why have you remained
focused only on the HP 3000, when other long-time suppliers have
branched out to other HP platforms?
comes down to personal reasons. Alfredo and myself have considered
that the personal objectives override business objectives. Weve
both been exposed to large companies as contractors or partners or
You can either grow to be a large company as a business
objective, or you can stay as a small company as a personal
objective. Our philosophy is that we would rather stay small, doing a
few things well by ourselves and with a lean-and-mean team of top
people. We respect the choices that other people make, but we would
not operate too well with hundreds of employees and large offices. We
are engineers, not managers. Most business schools would probably
Specifically, when we discovered the 3000 in 1974, we
immediately identified with what it wanted to accomplish. It took us
six months to persuade HP to sell us the first system. The HP 3000CX
performance was a far cry from our ideal, but its functionality was
really great. Since then, the 3000 has provided a great platform to
work with, considering the users, suppliers and market. Our choice
has allowed us to keep having hands-on experiences with things we
like to do. We decided we want to do the fun stuff ourselves, and
that implies staying small.
Just because we have said we dont want to be a large
company doesnt mean we dont provide world-class services.
Thats been the challenge. How do you support more than 10,000
users throughout 50 countries with less than a handful of people? We
use technology a lot, and were always looking for tools that
will help us do a better job. The Internet was a wonderful phenomenon
that we saw as an opportunity, so we have concentrated on making our
Web site a source of support more than anything else.
How is the Internet changing the HP 3000 community?
importance of physical meetings has decreased and the importance of
virtual meetings has increased dramatically. There are many Web
sites, electronic mailing lists and newsgroups that deal exclusively
with the HP 3000 and are linked and cross-referenced to each
The time to reach each other is now instantaneous. It
makes the truth stand out right away. Products now have to deliver on
their promises. Users can ask thousands of colleagues for references.
A respectful community like the 3000 one has much to gain. The values
of the community are not different. The behavior has changed.
really has opened a whole array of opportunities and challenges.
[The] 3000-L mailing list is an example of how the time factor has
literally disappeared. A user in Australia can post a question and
someone else can reply immediately. It has become a 24-by-7 community
now. When we were based in Guatemala, users would come to us with
written lists of enhancements to our booth at user group conferences.
A good portion of our time at the booth was dedicated to getting
those lists, once a year. That doesnt happen anymore.
Then there are those who want the 3000 to participate in
these activities. Thats what I think is all the fuss about
having a Web server on the 3000 and not just saying the 3000 can
exist on the side. We have asked to have it made an active
Over the 25 years youve been involved with the HP
3000, what would you say was the highwater mark for the system
and how do you rate the current state compared to that highwater
have seen the 3000 go from a rebirth after its 1973 recall, and
passing through all the challenges of the early 90s. My impression is
the 3000 is one of those systems whose highwater mark is always
raising. The HP 3000 has never looked so good and its future has
never been so bright. In its 27 years the 3000 has gone through many
stages. It initially had to compete to replace the old IBM 360s,
System 32s, 34s. When its success was apparent, IBM came up with the
System 38, the precursor to the AS/400. Likewise with DEC VAX and
Data General Eclipse offering. Then came Unix. The 3000 was always
living up to those challenges, and kept on pushing the limit of
acceptability. As we have seen, every step in the history of the 3000
has been a highwater mark.
you look at the current spirit, its amazing. The future is
looking good, and the 3000 is delivering enhancements as they are
identified. Right now were at the point where were
raising the mark again.
HP believes that its 3000 customers no longer are
platform-centric. What does your field experience with your HP 3000
customer list tell you about HPs platform-independent
Customers definitely want interoperability. Im happy to
hear HP is doing things along those lines. They want to use the right
tool for the right task, with as much of a common interface language
as possible. Customers no longer wish to have a single tool for all
tasks. They have realized that this objective had too great a cost.
The 3000, with its known and proven reliability and ease of use, has
a good place in the datacenter. For this reason, 3000 users are
always asking for more interoperability, thinking that its
easier to add functionality to a solid foundation that to add a solid
foundation to existing applications in less-reliable platforms.
You serve on the SIGIMAGE Executive Committee (SIEC).
Without giving away any secrets, is there a specific, important
advance in IMAGE/SQL that customers can look forward to?
dont think of SIGIMAGE as being able to filter or forecast what
the next enhancements will be. Its an ongoing discussion group
about how IMAGE is behaving in the real world. We are the first ones
to participate when an enhancement is available, but we dont
necessarily participate in the decision about what those enhancements
The most important and I believe unique
achievement of the SIEC is a continuous monitoring and analysis of
IMAGEs behavior in the real world. Because its membership has
representatives from all the different parties involved users,
developers, and HP it provides HP with a comprehensive outlook
into how IMAGE is doing. With the most significant enhancements
already delivered, we are all focusing on the big picture, looking
ahead to the challenges that IMAGE will have to address in the next
millennium, in addition to the items in the SIGIMAGE ballot. HP has a
very knowledgeable team of engineers, both in North America and in
you think those enhancements over the last few years have been
adequately communicated to developers and the customer base? Im
thinking about critical item update, and the b-tree indices.
communication from HP has been there. The main challenge is to
persuade developers about the advantages these developments mean to
them and their applications. Most developers became complacent during
the early 90s, while they were looking at the new platforms that
appeared and the marketing hype surrounding those platforms.
For instance, critical item update took almost 15 years to
implement, counting since the time Alfredo and Wirt Atmar made public
pleas in the early 80s. Most applications already had a much less
efficient workaround programmed into them. Developers took an
attitude of wait and see.
set some defaults that make the enhancement invisible to existing
users, so many users did not know the implication this enhancement
had for them. Developers are now realizing how good the 3000 has been
and will be to them, and are back investing resources into bringing
their applications up to date with all the new resources available to
them including interoperability and database features.
B-trees are different. HP has made an effort to put them
into QUERY. The defaults HP has been putting in for b-trees have been
more functional, and you can add them on to whatever system you have.
Its still recent, but in our support calls, Ive
definitely gotten a lot more calls asking whether we support b-trees
than whether we support critical item update.
hear tales of customer support at Adager that are completely
unrelated to supporting your product. Whats your favorite, and
why do you provide such help?
support call may well start with Im not a customer of
yours, but my colleague at such-and-such firm told me you could help
me with my particular problem.
Whenever you are in a bind, you can get very creative on how
to get support. In one case a non-Adager user at a hospital went so
far as to restore his production database in a friends HP 3000
before calling us, not knowing that we would have gladly sent him a
complimentary demo tape to correct his problem. Since his friend was
an Adager customer, he felt he could legally use Adager in his system
and call us for support.
The fellow sent us a nice letter later on, saying,
It is a pleasure to find a company willing to help regardless
of client affiliations.
Sometimes respect for Adagers support (both for the
Adager program itself and for the Adager team) has been hard-earned.
No one likes the messenger, and Adager is usually the first one to
tell of a database problem. Hardware problem detection is a typical
case. We work together with HPs Response Centers in many cases,
both with software and hardware engineers to diagnose problems. The
most recent case has been the problem with some 997s, but I recall
doing the same when the DDX problems appeared.
Some companies seem to believe in an abundance of
information credo that spreading knowledge for free is
good for everyone. Why is this a belief of Adagers?
Believing in the Internet implies adopting several things.
For us, this is one of those obvious things. As an example,
Adagers Web site doesnt force anybody to
register, doesnt impose cookies on unsuspecting
users, provides complimentary hypertext links to anybody involved
with the HP 3000, and so on. Adagers site is full of deep
technical information, available to anyone for the price of
downloading it. The HP 3000 may have been HPs best-kept secret
for many years, but this condition certainly has not been due to
Adagers lack of doing its best to spread the good word as
widely as possible. I hope more 3000-based software suppliers do
this. HP is now following this philosophy by publishing its
documentation in its web site. Perhaps this philosophy is something
that our friends [at the new 3kworld.com] will be able to
What does HP need to do to keep the HP 3000 community
growing beyond Year 2000?
needs to continue improving the HP 3000s hardware, its MPE/iX
operating system, and its IMAGE database management system. If they
demonstrate they are behind the platform for the long haul, with
IA-64 and Java, the rest will come. In addition, HP at its
highest corporate levels must be aware of its HP 3000
accomplishments and mention them proudly outside of the stock
speeches from Lew Platt, for instance for the installed
base during HP World. We look forward to Carly Fiorinas new
attitude and to her full support for Harry Sterling and his
hard-working team. Once she sees the numbers, she should become
quickly aware that the HP 3000 is an under-appreciated gold mine.
How much difference do you think this new HP CEO can make
to the HP 3000 customer?
some reason thats not completely obvious, it can make a huge
difference. The customers should view it as an opportunity. If we get
her attention and if she mentions the HP 3000 in public, there is no
limit to what can be accomplished. The HP 3000 is coming in strong,
precisely, in those areas that are critical for HP, in e-commerce,
for instance. With a modern look-and-feel provided by a
Java-based interface, and with powerful Internet connectivity based
on many TCP/IP protocols, the valuable information that resides in
thousands of IMAGE databases will get a totally new lease on life.
During a brief presentation at the HP resellers
meeting in New York, I mentioned that, with great
foresight, HP had made the 3000 the ideal server for
e-commerce, providing a proven platform for all the e-commerce
mission-critical requirements. Its a great opportunity.
What is the best development either strategic or
technical youve seen CSY execute in the last three
major event has been incorporating Java into the HP 3000, after
Alfredos public plea to Harry Sterling during IPROF
CSY re-engages old partners for solutions, what can you tell
companies considering a revival of their 3000 efforts about measuring
the potential of being an active solution provider in todays
key signal is HPs support for the platform. Strong support in
HPs marketing as well as in enhancements to its system software
will send a strong signal to developers, both old and new. Lately,
CSY has been sending very strong signals, worldwide. As a specific
example, the 3000 spirit in Europe now is stronger than ever.
What impact do you expect IA-64 to have on the HP 3000
community over the next three years say, through the year
exact delivery is not as important as knowing that
HP is working on this with full force. Users want commitment.
They can live with less-than-ideal delivery schedules.
Many things can happen between now and 2002. The idea is
to take advantage of technological leaps as soon as they happen (and
as soon as they obsolete other more primitive approaches). Take Java,
again, as an example. Most proposed GUIs for the HP 3000 have leaned
heavily towards MS Windows. With Java, all client platforms become
equal players. An analogous development in terms of IA-64 or its
successors could have dramatic effects on what gets actually
delivered in the end.
Are you taking any development steps now to dovetail your
product with the new architecture? Can anyone, given whats
known about it?
We are constantly doing a lot of consolidation and cleaning up in our
code to move it forward. Clean code is easier to move forward than
messy code. So, this is a good thing to do regardless of the specific
Some people have forecast a slowing of HP 3000 revival
once the tunnel of Year 2000 safety is cleared next year. How do you
think the customer base will react stronger use of a platform
that carried them through the millennium shift, or renewed activity
to move toward other choices?
depends on HPs approach: Are they going to be timid or
proactive? Where would Windows be now if Bill Gates had been timid
seven or eight years ago? The market penetration of Windows is not
precisely due to its stellar qualities in its early days.
What advice would you give the IT manager whose CFO wants
to turn his HP 3000 off?
Alfredo had a good answer in his interview with Astronaut Jim
Lovell. IT managers should not let themselves follow blindly the
recommendations from their CFOs. The 3000 position can be defended
with reason and numbers. There is evidence of this: the Southwest
Airlines ticketless system, Brookhaven National Labs. As I mentioned
before, CFOs are very conscious of real costs now. I would tell that
manager, Dont be shy ask for help from your
current 3000 suppliers as well as in 3000-L. HP has been very
cooperative in providing supporting evidence.