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Rene Woc
CEO
Adager

 

October 2002

Composing the 3000’s New Movement

Rene Woc is like many HP 3000 customers — making a handsome career out of surviving. The CEO at Adager, the 3000 market’s oldest database solution supplier, directs the business operations and market strategy for a company that now defies commonplace computer industry strategies. After more than two decades, Adager is a company still blissfully obsessed with HP 3000 business. HP’s pronouncements of last year about its future with the 3000 appear to have forced no changes upon Woc or Adager, one of a select group of companies in the 3000 software community still dedicated only to MPE solutions.
During the same month when the most recent HP World show convened, Woc observed the anniversary of another survival: his own, 10 years beyond his coronary bypass operation. It was a life-threatening event that has made him stronger and healthier, he says. The statement seems to apply also to the transition which the HP 3000 community faces today. Adager still maintains one of the largest 3000 customer bases outside of HP’s own. Unlike the vendor which created the computer, Adager still sees a healthy future ahead for its HP 3000 business.

Woc was born in Guatemala, as was Adager’s co-founder Alfredo Rego. The two men began working together on HP 3000 projects in that country almost as soon as the computer was available. Telectro, which he was leading in 1974, took delivery of the second HP 3000 ever sold into Latin America. It was an exercise in independence from the start. In those days, overseas customers had to prove to HP they were capable of owning an HP 3000 outside the US, promising to buy a second HP system for diagnostics and stocking spare parts. The ownership demanded 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 first 128K computer showed a faith in the system that hasn’t wavered in the decades since.

Woc is managing a company that serves thousands of customers across 50 countries — impressive numbers when coupled with Adager’s legendary lean staffing and few offices. Although the company was founded 24 years ago in Guatemala, in 1988 it relocated with its development brain trust intact to Sun Valley, Idaho. Its resource consumption is as efficient as any program designed for those early 128K systems, giving the company the ability to navigate skillfully through business waters whose depth might be uncertain in coming years. Instead of sinking resources into large staff counts and multiple addresses, Woc and his cohorts developed a company that was quick to the Internet, showing comfort with new technology that makes those efficiencies possible. Now he and Rego are exploring new technical opportunities, but not at the expense of existing HP 3000 customers. Adager doesn’t depend on migrating its customers away from HP 3000s, choosing to build its next venture on its own merits.

This year has marked many changes in the 3000 community, including the first time when Adager chose to skip the Interex exhibit hall at the North American conference. By sticking to its 3000 roots and steering clear of the drain of an expo hall, Adager is following a path as independent as the 3000’s heritage. This was a computer offered as an alternative to batch processing, after all. We wanted to peer over Woc’s shoulder to share the vision of a survivor in today’s hard times. He answered our questions via the Internet in the days surrounding the HP World conference, where he and his colleague Alfredo Rego were often speaking out at microphones.

Why hasn’t Adager made a push into other markets with its product following HP’s announcement of last November?

If your definition of “other markets” includes only the narrow “migration of HP 3000 databases and applications to other platforms,” then you are correct in your assessment. We certainly have not pushed our way into that area.

But there is also life outside of the HP 3000 — just as there is still plenty of life within the HP 3000 community. We have always actively studied and contributed to technological trends that we find appealing. And this is a very important word: “appealing.” Adager has never acted as a lemming and there is no reason for doing so now, after HP has chosen to kill the HP 3000.

In technology, we find two areas extremely appealing:

1) TurboIMAGE. A magnificent DBMS where we can still make many exciting technical contributions. We have a moral responsibility to help large users with hundreds of millions of entries and thousands of concurrent accessors. And we also have a moral responsibility to help mom-and-pop shops with no IT staff whatsoever. We have always been proud of our association with TurboIMAGE and we have always done our very best to complement it in terms of performance, reliability, and total cost of ownership. There is no reason to stop researching (and implementing) new ways to do so.

2) Out-of-the-mainstream technologies that R&D managers dismiss outright but that happen to fascinate us with their technical elegance.

Put another way, what makes the product a good fit for the MPE environment — or what are the perils in porting a well-designed tool elsewhere?

Adager is a specialized product for a specialized environment. Just as the HP 3000, Adager (the company as well as its flagship product) is a workhorse that quietly and consistently works with one of the world’s fundamental database engines. Adager and TurboIMAGE fit intimately, glued by MPE’s powerful file system. Our customers experience a rock-solid combination that gives them a real competitive advantage.

Many of our customers have built their specialized applications using MPE-IMAGE-Adager as their foundation. After years of tender loving care, these systems are well-crafted, fast, economical, and reliable. We get lots of feedback regarding a simple fact: Our customers are not looking forward to wasting millions of dollars and years of effort to downgrade their showcase environments to what they consider inferior OS and DBMS platforms.

You’re not exhibiting at Interex’s show for the first time in more than two decades. Why the shift in approach to the market?

We have always treated the worldwide MPE-Image community as a tightly knit group of colleagues and friends. We provide software products and services to enhance their lives.

For decades, we made significant contributions to the HP 3000 International Users Group (HP 3000 IUG) and its many worldwide National and Regional User Groups (NUGs and RUGs). We were among the first major sponsors for conferences of all sizes. Then, slowly, as the relevance of Interex (the successor of the HP 3000 IUG) to HP 3000 users dwindled, we decided to direct our attention elsewhere.

Once HP announced its choice to kill MPE-Image without any consideration for its survival and unbounded prosperity “under new management” (when the timing was right, back in November 2001), it made no sense for us to keep marketing IMAGE databases (something that HP should have done, of course, but we happily stepped in). We feel that our presence in HP World must now be focused on discussion groups and informal conversations with attendees rather than on the exhibit floor.

Is there another marketplace or platform that Adager is considering for future business?

Of course. But please remember that we do things because we love doing them, not because we “must” do them. The HP 3000 has been a wonderful platform for us and there is no reason to jump ship prematurely. We don’t have any venture capitalists or stockholders dictating our future. We actively develop and enhance Adager because we have a significant backlog of requests from our customers (and of things that we ourselves always wanted to do with Adager).

Meanwhile, we continue to keep our eyes open and to investigate all kinds of other possibilities. We want to help our current users as they struggle to downgrade to other platforms. We are very fortunate, because we are free to select our current and future environments based on our own internal criteria.

We routinely investigate emerging technologies outside of the MPE-Image arena and apply them to our work as we continue to develop Adager software for our IMAGE/SQL customers. We strongly believe in cross-fertilization.

Do Adager’s customers say they want a similar product on their other databases?

Yes. Every time a happy TurboIMAGE user is forced to go to a different DBMS, we get the question “will you be available for so-and-so.” Our objective is to make IMAGE/SQL the very best DBMS in the world. Adager has made significant contributions in the past and fully intends to continue making substantial inroads in the future of IMAGE/SQL databases. For example, at HP World we announced that Adager will help all IMAGE users (whether Adager customers or not) convert their Jumbo datasets to LargeFile Datasets (LFDS, an IMAGE enhancement included in MPE/iX 7.5).

How did HP’s announcement change your business plans?

We are very nimble and we have never had any “business plans” in the sense of rigidly-managed companies. At Adager, we have always believed that it is better for us to concentrate on having first-rate people who love their work. HP’s announcement has not forced us to do anything differently, because we continue to have first-rate people who love their work.

What we do is not flashy, because it’s all “under the hood” and “nuts and bolts.” What we do is essential and it must work flawlessly. We always strive to make IMAGE/SQL databases better, faster, and more reliable. Adager has a straightforward mission and Adager uses high-tech tools to make it work effectively and efficiently. We are the best in the world at what we do and we are passionate. But don’t take our word for it. Please study what our worldwide customers say on a daily basis at www.adager.com/HP3000Friends.html

What’s the essential element you’re seeking in another opportunity for your company?

Technical elegance.

We continue to explore all kinds of computer technologies. Who knows? One of these may provide the basis for future business plans. We continue to do the things that we love to do — and making Adager better and better is certainly something that we love to do. We sympathize with the urgent need that most mainstream managers have for doing the things that they must do. Fortunately, we are not in that position.

What’s the peril in migrating customers to another platform?

This is a question for HP, not for us.

HP chose to abandon the HP 3000 platform. At Adager, we have never decided to abandon the HP 3000 platform.

HP’s announcement caught most HP 3000 customers unprepared, particularly so soon after the upbeat announcements — just two months before — at HP World in Chicago. Users were making plans to move to newer hardware platforms that would become available for MPE. Even now, few users know what lies ahead for their applications. Many of them are buying new hardware, anticipating they will be on the HP 3000 for a long time.

The frustrating thought for many HP 3000 users is that, after having spent millions of dollars and several years of their lives in migrating off the HP 3000, they will end up in the same position they have right now, having wasted opportunities to evolve their applications.

Will your next opportunity convert HP 3000 users to another platform, or simply rely on their business to be added with a new product?

It’s impossible to predict the future, but we have a tradition of thriving by addressing unfulfilled challenges whose solutions we find appealing to our sense of technical elegance.

Why do you think so few suppliers have decided to maintain their focus on the HP 3000 alone?

They probably must answer to unbearable pressures from stockholders or venture capitalists. We are just a bunch of hard-core software engineers and we answer only to the needs of our customers.

What made you decide to pick the HP 3000 in the first place, and how much of that has changed?

I chose and bought my first HP 3000 in 1974, as an end user and not as a software developer. Even with all the shortcomings of the early systems, the HP 3000 offered an exciting platform to do software development and a great community. HP was, even within its well-known marketing limitations, as aggressive and responsive as it could have been expected.

What has changed is the attitude of the creator of the HP 3000. Starting around 1990, HP has done everything possible to get rid of its unloved child, but without allowing the HP 3000 to have the freedom to grow and prosper outside of HP. Unfortunately, loyal HP 3000 users ended up footing the bill.

Well, we heard at HP World what HP’s willing to pay for in MPE’s future — but the vendor admitted it turned down early offers from outside organizations whose mission would be to help MPE and Image evolve. What did you observe about how suitable HP’s static future for MPE and Image would be to the 3000 community?

There’s a lot of untapped potential in MPE-Image. As John Burke so eloquently said at HP World, HP should seriously consider the win-win option of “letting MPE-Image go.” HP would win back a lot of the good will that it lost in the last year, and MPE-Image users (current as well as future) would love nothing more than a thriving OS-DBMS platform — one that, through focused tender loving care, goes forward to compete, unfettered, in its specialized market: heavy-duty OLTP.

This obviously must go beyond HP’s “allowing” (with lots of restrictions) the current “frozen” MPE to run on an emulator. In this very unattractive scenario, HP conveys a clear message that MPE-Image is ankylosed, a word whose meanings include a definition of “stopped in its evolution.”
HP should let MPE-Image go to a good home that is ready, willing and able to move Heaven and Earth with ONE objective in mind: The un-handcuffed opportunity to excel. HP should transfer the MPE-Image torch (without extinguishing it first) to a solid group of highly motivated technical and marketing people with the appropriate financial backing to do the job well.


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