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HP 3000 Future

Jim Sartain listens, in order to build relationships on behalf of the HP 3000. The leader of one of two Cupertino-based R&D sections in the HP 3000 division (CSY) lab, Sartain manages engineers expanding some of the 3000’s newest technologies, as well as some of its oldest. Solution teams covering Internet and interoperability along with HP databases report to him, as well as groups exploring datacenter solutions, application development tools and customer support. Sartain may be best-known in the 3000 community, however, for work he led in response to a customer revolt. Once customers expressed their displeasure at a waning emphasis on IMAGE, CSY had to respond with improvements. Sartain was directly responsible for HP’s offering of an SQL interface for IMAGE, the first advance that signalled CSY’s commitment to a Customer First strategy. Sartain worked with a revived IMAGE special-interest group to revitalize the database at the heart of 85 percent of 3000s, showing a level of dedication and response matched by few CSY managers before or since. Dynamic detail dataset expansion and third-party interface work also began on his watch.

After bringing a revamped IMAGE/SQL to the customers, Sartain took an educational retreat to advance in the HP management hierarchy. Sartain’s move in 1995 from front-line IMAGE work resulted from an education opportunity he won, nominated as one of 10 HP employees in a new Master’s degree program for Management of Technology (MoT). The academics were a return of sorts for him; he began his HP career after leaving an associate professor’s post at the University of Oregon in 1983. Sartain emerged from the MoT program in 1997, acting as the US based manager of CSY’s new Bangalore, India engineering resource. CSY R&D manager Winston Prather named Sartain to his current post later that year.

Sartain has always showed strength in his ability to listen to customers and HP solution suppliers. Wirt Atmar, one of the 3000’s strongest proponents and a key advocate of IMAGE, credited Sartain with “single-handedly restoring a profound sense of trust between the users and HP. The change in attitude that Jim helped foster [as director of the IMAGE lab] was one of the primary driving forces that very much helped resurrect the HP 3000 from the grave.”

In plainer terms, we believe Sartain is a leading reason the 3000 enjoyed the renaissance that led to its second 25 years as a growing HP business. We decided to turn the tables on the CSY manager and listen to him at the recent IPROF conference, as CSY’s labs outlined the advances that will be delivered in that quarter-century. While the scope of Sartain’s duties prompted questions across many technology and policy fronts, all could well be summarized into one: how he will use his position to make superior listening result in superior solutions.

You’re covering a lot of ground for the 3000 these days. How do you define the scope of your responsibilities?

I’m responsible for application development, database, Internet interoperability and networking. We’re all responsible for customer support of the HP 3000, and software delivery: mainline releases, Express releases, PowerPatches. If you’re wondering what that doesn’t cover, it’s everything but MPE. Dave Wilde is Mr. MPE, championing the growth work. Subbu [V.S. Subrahmanyam] is responsible for the lab in Bangalore, which is involved in everything Dave and I are doing.

Software delivery is a pretty hot issue now with the confusion over Express 3 and PowerPatch 4 packaging and instructions. What can you say about how much better the process will be for Express 5 and PowerPatches?

We’re actually rolling out a lot more functionality in Expresses than we’ve ever done before. Previously most of it was in mainline releases, and the Expresses had some new functionality. Now we’re not waiting for mainline releases. We have some challenges learning how to use this technology. We probably need to improve it. We’re learning about some areas where it wasn’t designed to handle the volume of software that’s going through that channel.

Do you think there’s a chance that in the future people will be able to run a program on the 3000 that asks simple questions and tells them what they need to install?

We’ve made improvements in this area with Patch/iX and Stage/iX. We haven’t done a good job of articulating some of the benefits of this program to customers and to our support organization. It supports features that allow you to do staging of some of the updates offline, to save you a lot of downtime.

We’re definitely listening to all the feedback we’re getting from the [3000 Internet newsgroup] on the issue, and we want to evolve this process. Even the media we’re sending will be changing over time. [Ed. Note: CSY managers referred to a new HP corporate directive that software updates should migrate to CDs, possibly in DVD format, by the turn of the century.]

How are you going to motivate Roseville’s Computer Languages Lab to get going on the renovation of the COBOL II compiler? Can CSY do something to move the process along, like taking the compiler out of the Software Services Division and back into the 3000 division?

The heart of the issue is not a relationship issue. We have a great relationship with the folks in Roseville. The real issue is that we have been slow to develop a plan for the COBOL language. We’ve been hearing feedback on the need to have a clearer roadmap, and we haven’t progressed on that as rapidly as we’d like.

We hear the need. The COBOL compiler is used by a majority of applications on the 3000. It’s a major tool that’s required to maintain the customer’s investment. You should expect to see more progress on the COBOL plan by HP World. We’re not happy with the progress we’ve made. We’ve had a lot of other things to focus on, like the MPE growth plan.

We’ve written that improving COBOL II is a chance to supply better performance overall for the 3000. Do you see it that way?

Absolutely. Improving compiler performance, including the COBOL compilers, is an excellent opportunity for improving system performance. This is true for customer applications and it’s also true for the operating systems and HP subsystems. We’ve made more progress in the internal compiler area [such as modcal] than in the external areas compiler.

What’s up with C++ support? It’s a tool in porting a real prominent piece of Internet software that will be on every HP 3000, and yet CSY hasn’t put it in the full support category. What kind of message does that send to people pondering potential Posix porting projects?

It’s clear there’s more and more use of C++. We’re using it more, and we’re very happy with the quality of the C++ compiler. The support that is available is meeting our needs, and it’s not impacting our Netscape porting adversely. It is a development environment, so it’s not like a 24x7 situation where you need immediate Response Center support.

It’s exceeded our expectations in terms of the quality. For the time being, we’re comfortable with the level of support. As time goes by, the customer base that uses it will continue to grow, and we may want to revisit [the support] question. There will come a point where it might make sense to provide support from HP.

So is C++ a candidate for that transition from unsupported freeware to supported product, like Java/iX and Samba/iX?

Right, and more and more you’ll see this being our strategy. When a new technology comes out – and we had maybe five people here who said they were using C++ – at that point it’s not a serious business issue that it’s unsupported by HP. One thing that’s good about this approach is that every once in a while one of these technologies doesn’t make it. The worst thing that can happen to us is when we get 20 30 customers using some technology, and we’re supporting it, and our efforts go into supporting a technology that very few people use. That takes away from supporting a technology such as IMAGE, MPE or networking that everybody uses.

CSY’s own Kriss Rant asked what HP could do to motivate ports of Posix products to the 3000. Doesn’t it seem like support for the C++ compiler they’ll use would help?

We just haven’t heard that as being an impediment to porting. If we started to hear that, that would definitely raise the level of urgency. It is surprising to see how many companies use Gnu C++ even when there are supported products available. At the end of the day, what you care about is does your compiler work. You prefer not to need any support. There’s so many people working on Gnu C++ making it better, there might be more than working on some commercial compilers.

Speaking of development resources, do you think the IMAGE lab is staffed adequately in the face of complications that arise from using IMAGE in the more complex world of SQL and client-server? We keep hearing of a limited headcount in the HP database lab.

I think where that perception comes from is that we’re working more at getting the people in India involved. People say, “I used to work with this fellow in Cupertino.” There was a time when our entire lab was in Cupertino, and we didn’t have a Bangalore lab. Now we’ve added a sizable Bangalore lab, and people don’t know who those people are and don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t have that personal relationship.

There’s a sizable lab team, and I can’t comment on the exact number. The majority of the team is in India. We have a strong team, and you can tell by looking at all the things that were announced as having been done. [SIGIMAGE chair] Ken Sletten mentioned there were 11 things either done soon or finished. We saw presentations by Bharati [Desai of the database lab] of all the TPI enhancements, and by Tien-You [Chen] of all the IMAGE scaling going on. We also make use of third-party developers.

Basically, I say measure us on what we get done relative to needs. I think we’re doing a very good job of meeting needs, even in the IMAGE/SQL area. There’s going to continue to be things that need to be improved, to evolve in SQL and relational databases. You see improvements in those areas: the packed and zoned and signed issue that was mentioned. When an issue comes up – and that particular one has been there for eight years, by the way – it gets covered when there’s more users it impacts. I feel we’re addressing the issues as they come up, and even anticipating some of them.

With all that said, the major area you’ll see the database lab focusing on in the near future is performance and scaling. We have some major opportunities there to grow the 3000. It’s critical the database scales along with the operating system. We’ve done this before. In 1990 we did a huge number of performance improvements, and a lot of those have carried us, and we were able to coast in some areas with such a superb job in processor scaling, for example. We need to go back and make some more investments in that area. I’m convinced we have the resources we need to get the job done, and if we’re not meeting expectations, we may invest more.

We don’t think of the database lab as being independent of the rest of the 3000 team. We look at the whole range of user needs, and invest in the areas that have the biggest needs to keep them in balance. It does us no good to have a superb database if the operating system isn’t scaling, or if the core networking capabilities aren’t there. We’re constantly tuning the balance of resources.

That brings up a communication issue related to IMAGE. Why is a large executive committee so important to CSY’s communications about IMAGE these days? It seems like what’s now 29 people really understand what’s being done, but they’re either in HP or under non-disclosure. Why do you think it’s changed, and is it better for the customer?

Other than the size, I don’t think it’s changed. We’ve had a SIGIMAGE executive committee for about eight years now. We worked as closely together in March of 1990 as we do today. I think having a larger executive committee has not been a bad thing. It just means there’s that many more people out there thinking about the issues that are important to the database.

The customers still have the ability to communicate directly with HP. Anyone who’s been around people like Jon Bale and Bharati Desai can see that they make themselves very available. We have people interact directly with us all the time, even though they’re not on the committee.

Well, regardless of the level of communication between CSY and the committee, some of what was once public isn’t anymore.

That’s always been the case, and it’s good in a way, because then you can get a consensus that’s relatively broad in an efficient and timely manner. We’ve known all along that the bi-annual meetings, IPROF and HP World, weren’t frequent enough ongoing communication for HP and the customers.

It’s nice to have a conduit, but it’s not the only vehicle for getting information. There’s the Response Center, where people can file an SR and a lab engineer’s going to see it.

Can you make a case for benchmarking IMAGE/SQL, so you can show customers new to the 3000 – like the airlines considering Open Skies’ solution – what they’re getting with IMAGE?

I can see two audiences for benchmarks: existing and new customers. Existing customers don’t need a benchmark to tell them they’ve got a great solution. New customers, I think, are more effectively persuaded when they go to an application provider and that provider says, “Tell me what your business problem is, and how many users you have, and I’ll tell you how much it’s going to cost to solve your problem.” Giving them a TPC [benchmark] number isn’t really going to be that persuasive.

In fact, often those numbers don’t reflect the real world. There’s a big investment to do TPC benchmarking in hardware and people resources which has marginal customer benefit.

Does a JDBC solution need to be bundled in MPE/iX to get Java jump-started with the customer base?

We’re taking a serious look at JDBC. There are areas where we actually anticipate needs and lead the vendors and users. ODBC was one of those areas. There are a lot of ODBC drivers today, but HP had one before other vendors knew what it was. JDBC is in the same possible category. It’s an emerging standard that may or may not make it. It may be like ADAPI, or it may be like ODBC. We think it’s very promising, but we’re not sure whether it should be something provided by HP in the beginning or whether we should work with a third-party to provide, or whether we should have a shareware solution. We’re evaluating all three alternatives. We don’t know where we want to start out on this, but we want to have something.

Inevitably, it’s better that you end up with multiple suppliers of this kind of solution. Even if HP produces something, there’s going to be some third-party out there which does this as their core business. They’ll do it better than us, they’ll do it cheaper than us. Some people, then again, will want an HP solution. We obviously prefer to dedicate our resources in core areas that nobody else can address.

What are your plans to convert jumbo datasets to support files greater than 4Gb? We heard at IPROF there are no plans to do this.

I think the right way to say it would be there are no current plans. We’re obviously going to take advantage of the jumbo file capability once it’s available, because the thing that’s growing fastest is the IMAGE databases. The reason it makes sense to have big files is to support large databases, and large files that are extracted from large databases. That’s why the jumbo dataset enhancement was done from the beginning. We needed something there to meet the needs of aggressively growing businesses. If the jumbo file capability is available, we definitely want to take advantage of it if that is the right way to solve the terabyte database problem.

Is the 918DX enough of a processor for large-scale application development?

We have some developers who are very happy with what they have and are successfully using what they have. I’ve heard other developers that feel they need more memory or more horsepower. There are some ways they can get that additional memory or horsepower at a 52 percent discount, and that meets their needs too. There may be a few others for whom that doesn’t meet their needs. They should work with Adrian den Hartog, because he’s very interested in getting input.

We can continue to evaluate and tweak the program if we want. What we should do in these cases is get something out there, see if it meets people’s needs. If it doesn’t, we can tweak it some more.

Can you do anything more for them on support? The actual cost appears to be more than $7,000 per year with the machine and support, instead of just $7,000.

We heard that, and that’s definitely an area we’re re-evaluating. We did work with [HP support] and we did get some concessions.

Does IMAGE need a date/time data type in the face of all the Year 2000 work being done?

A large number of 3000 shops have already made the Year 2000 transition, and they haven’t needed this data type. It isn’t a necessary prerequisite to solving the Y2K problem. It seems to be less and less important as more people successfully transition their applications to Y2K; they’ve just chosen a date standard and gone with it. I’ve never heard of it being a key issue up to this point.

TurboStore is an HP product getting enhancements, even though there are third party alternatives that provide the same or better functionality. If CSY can justify continued TurboStore development, why can’t it create a 32-bit native TurboIMAGE ODBC driver? How do you justify not producing an enhancement that keeps appearing atop customer request lists?

In some cases it’s an economic matter that it’s self funding. There’s a revenue opportunity there [with TurboStore]. There are other cases where we’ve been asked to replicate the third-party’s functionality and not provide a better solution. The key issue was whether the solution was HP supported. The problem is that we have to pick and choose what we’re going to support, because we have a certain amount of support bandwidth, and it costs HP money. We have to judge what’s the relative benefit of supporting that technology versus not supporting it. It’s always a judgment call. It’s never black and white.

In the case of ODBC, it’s a huge investment for some benefit, and it doesn’t seem to make economic sense. We have an almost infinite number of potential customer needs. We want to trade off and invest in those areas that have the biggest bang for the buck. There’s plenty of other things people bring up that other suppliers don’t have. Let us work on those.

Does every technology that CSY decides to work on have to spring from a customer need, or can you lead your customers to new technology?

Everything we do should spring from a need. The question becomes is it an articulated need or an unspoken need? We definitely want to look out for some of the unspoken needs, because that’s the true definition of customer delight. There’s actually a nice model developed by a fellow in Japan named Kano that can be used to categorize customer needs. The model suggests you get the most impact by finding needs that customers aren’t articulating. The way you really delight people is you find things they didn’t even realize they wanted, but they needed. For example, I was having dinner in India, and who knows when it will come. I’m bored, and a guy comes up and says “Would you like a newspaper to read while you’re waiting?” I never would have thought to ask for something to read, but he saw I was sitting there bored.

We have met those unspoken needs in the past. One example is PA-RISC. Nobody told us they needed a RISC architecture, but we anticipated we could have a dramatic change in the architecture that provided huge price performance improvements. People could do much better computing at a lower price. SQL is another example. People didn’t tell us they wanted relational databases. In fact, they told us quite the opposite. Quite a few customers were unsure if we should make the IMAGE/SQL investment. We carried folks along on that.

JDBC is an example of an unspoken need from a vast majority of customers. It’s something we’re following and investigating. By the time we decide to have something, it will be there when people finally figure out they need it. That’s what we try to do.

Jim Sartain

R&D Section Manager

Copyright 1998, The 3000 NewsWire. All rights reserved.

Copyright 1998 The 3000 NewsWire. All rights reserved