Wednesday, September 28, 2016

At 50, memories get fuzzy

I mentioned in the previous post, being honored to be included at the HP Labs 50th anniversary celebration.  I was surprised though that there was little focus on what the Labs did to begin, how they got started, who did what, and etc.  Even the products that emerged early weren't mentioned.

Now, this was the PC/handheld devices/printing group, so they might not be expected to enthuse about the HP2116A, which will have its 50th anniversary from introduction on November 7.   So the stories they had were about the imagination to look at a coffee brewer and think of an exploding ink jet bubble as a delivery mechanism for ink.  The HP 35 was prominent in the pictures, and there was an HP 9100, but no HP 2116 that I saw.

And the date for HP Labs founding wasn't exactly Sept 27.  It was November 1, 1966, just as so many other HP organizational things happened at the fiscal year start.  But in truth, Barney started HP Labs in 1961, when the four divisional labs were pulled out from under him, leaving him with what we called "Central Labs."  I was invited to join this group in July 1962, and I had to pass his 'test' of what conformal mapping and convolution integrals meant, and could I handle that mathematics.  (By the way, such math is today very important for computer graphics and 3D modeling).

I then joined the oscilloscope group, which proved fortuitous as a group for the Central Labs.  The issue was we would move to Colorado Springs in 1964, and several key members of the group (including Rod Carlson, Dick Monnier, and Kay Magleby) elected to stay in the Bay.  The 'scope lab was the only group at HP building tools for computer companies in the early 1960s--everyone else was busy with communication tools (radio, TV, and microwave).  I went to Springs.

Well, the upshot was that Magleby went to Stanford for a PhD on HP support, for Paul Stoft in the Central Labs.  He came back with the idea of an Instrument Controller, which became the 2116.  Dick Monnier led the HP 9100 project, the first computer with a built-in CRT; and Rod Carlson became the head of the Network Analyzer which used the 2166 as the data acquisition and processing engine for microwave data.   Meanwhile, I built the HP 1300A in C Springs as the HP 2116 CRT display--whien IBM, DEC, and virtually everyone else insisted that ASR-33 teletypes were enough.

So, in point of fact, HP Labs started not only its computer ideas long before November 1966, but also the semiconductor work for what we called Boff Diodes for sampling heads, three-five compound work that led to LEDs, and SSI for small-scale integration before the semicolon houses were going.

Otherwise, you'd have to say, "Boy, this research lab not only researched, but productized the HP2116 in 7 days--almost Biblical in capability"

Great fun all the way around

HP Labs @ 50

Wow!  I was extremely privileged last night, to be invited to and able to attend the 50th Anniversary of HP Laboratories, in the Customer Service Center of Building 3U at the 1501 Page Mill Site.  This was put on by HP Inc.

It was led by Shane Wall, Global Head of HP Labs for HP Inc., and featured CEO Dion Weisler, plus a panel of two Board members (Stacy Brown-Philpott, and Aida Alvarez)  and HP's HR VP (Tracy Keogh), moderated by a dynamite Fortune magazine writer (Leena Rao).

The theme of the evening was "Where HP is going over the next 30 years" and how Diversity is a big part of that perspective.  Dion gave voice to that with thoughts about creativity and innovation coming from disparate perspectives--he has lived and worked in ten countries on 4 continents.  He had a terrific example of a Japanese engineer trying to build a 'noiseless fan" for a small laptop, who found inspiration in the silent flight of an owl when he went on a nature trip.

I watched our big snowy owl circle our trees at dawn yesterday, probably three major swoops, all silent.  I never tire of watching (and "listening") to owls; we had a Great Horned Owl on our Colorado ranch when I was deep into Logic Analyzers--though I cannot claim the owl helped me invent.

Turns out Aida Alvarez is on HP's Board, was the first Latino Cabinet member for any U.S. President, and long on the Walmart board.  I used my iPhone (wish HP had invented it) to find my daughter's bio--Sharon Orlopp, for those of you interested.  She retired last year as Sr. V.P. of Walmart with the title Global Chief Diversity Officer.  Turns out Aida told a story about Sharon without naming her--building much higher diversity success for 2 million employees.

Natch, I had to ask Alvarez later, and yes, she got excited and said, "Yup, Sharon is 'the one' and if you're her dad, that's a great link for these values--they might just be the OLD HP.  And I thought YES, INDEED.

Shane at the end intro'd a few guests--three of us were HP Labs alumni (only three?  like where was Joel Birnbaum, John Doyle, Gary Gordon, Zvonko Fazarinc or so many others who did great things). There was Chandrakant Patel, HP Senior Fellow and Chief Engineer and there was Keith Moore (who invited me).  And only about 15 other HP folk.  Turns out the room was MOSTLY journalists, and HP was giving them 2 days of 'view' into the future.  

That future revolved around 4 fundamental trends--1. Megacities (10M or more folk) will go from 10 in the world today to 50 by mid-century; 2. More than 50% of people alive in 2050 will be older than 50 years old; 3. The Dark Continent will light up, as will every home on the globe; and 4. Hyper-globalization will result in hyper-localization as 3D mfg takes over 'everywhere' for all products.

It also involves 4 major technologies that HP is working hard on--1. 3d Transformation of Mfg; 2. Internet of "ALL THINGS" (stronger than Cisco's pitch); 3. Microfluidics via MEMS machines; and 4. Hypermobility

CEO Dion captured this well, saying the Old HP used to invent, refine, and then CREATE NEW CATEGORIES, and that somewhere about 20 years ago the CATEGORY CREATION ceased.  He expects and plans to stimulate its return, and he vowed that supporting Diversity is the best way.

I was delighted with the entire evening.  More though from a "historian's view" in the next post.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Connecting Clouds

A few weeks ago, I posted "Cloudy weather ahead" citing HP's abandonment of the Public Cloud.  This was days before the HPE/HPI separation, and the reaction of many to the post was 'confusion' to say the least.

"How could HP be abandoning the Cloud?" was the most popular refrain.

And of course they weren't, in terms of hybrid clouds, etc.

But this cloud business is ... indeed cloudy.

In today's SF Chronicle, I published a small article entitled, "Last mile: the home stretch for Hybrid Clouds"   You can see it at

The observation essentially is that where the Cloud technology and deployment issues stand is akin to where connecting networks was in about 1985, before widespread adoption and deployment of routers.

Having done some work re Cisco history, I was struck by how few firms understood the power and the ease of connection for multiple disparate networks.  It took nearly a decade for most of the Fortune 500 to 'get on board,' astonishing as that might seem today.

IT directors, recall, are not paid to be risk-takers, but instead to be fully risk-averse.  We med with many of them when I ran R&D/Product Marketing for Informix circa 1991.  After one dinner with a number of IT CIOs, my wife on the way home said, "WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?  DULLER THAN...."

It fits, and still fits today.  The issues today of course are complicated by cyber-security issues, contending vendors, and costly revamping of the core stack privileges.  But they were back then too....

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the article

Silicon Photonics

One candidate for considerably improved computing performance is SILICON PHOTONICS

To the question of what has DARPA or other government agencies done for us lately, the news from the Obama administration on this front seems encouraging.  To wit, the formulation of AIM Photonics last year.  Michael Liehr, at SUNY, is the CEO/Director.  I don't know him.  The Deputy director is John Bowers, an incredibly capable researcher based at UCSB (Univ of Calif at Santa Barbara).  He is assisted by Rod Alferness, also from UCSB.I;ve worked with them in the past, and have the highest regard for them.

The task though is a tough one.  It is housed at SUNY Albany, with strong goals and capable leaders.  But recall SEMATECH, and its abortive start in the mid-1980s, even though DARPA and Craig Fields did monumental work to aid U.S. firms in their fight vis-a-vis Asian chip manufacturers.
SEMATECH eventually morphed, and moved to SUNY Albany, creating the NanoTech Complex, a key reason that the Si Photonics labs are being located there as well.

Also recall MCC in Austin, again with much fanfare (Dields eventually ran it) to 'save American leadership in software'  

Let's hope the lessons of those approaches are embodied in the AIM Photonics effort.

Below is the first slide of a quasi-public document describing the new facility

There are two levels of support beyond the government sponsorship-- Industry with three tiers of supporting level, and academia with an analogous three tiers.   Below are the logos of the first tier of industry--clearly some big names (recall, for example, that Intel stood aside from SEMATECH until Bob Noyce was willing to head it up).  Keysight (our old instrument friends from HP) are in Tier 3.  Cisco, Juniper and Texas Inst have all said "we'll play" but haven't ante'd as yet, so are in no Tier.

Herewith the lead schools  (note, Caltech and Stanford are in Tier 3, Berkeley and UC San Diego in Tier 2).

I'd be interested in any thoughts you have on this topic

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Looking forward

We're well into "the new HP era", right?   Six weeks in, in fact.  And the word on "the machine" is muted, but worth discussioin.  As are a lot of other "what now" topics.

One that hasn't gotten much mention from HP in awhile is Quantum Computing, a worthy contender (for many theoretical years) to HP's approach.

Last week, a gaggle of Google researchers announced some interesting results from their analysis with a D-wave machine--including a result that sped up operations by some 100 million times.  Wow!  We should get one of those machines.

And then, an MIT researcher, Scott Aaronson, gave an ACM interview re 'what does this all mean?'  You might find it interesting reading at:

Net net--we're all still waiting.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Cloudy weather ahead?

Just when you were hopeful that the ship is "righting" -- that's a nautical term, one that Ellison's boys know--comes word that Meg and team are abandoning yet another promising area.

You probably saw the announcement that they sold their Network Security business, Tipping Point, to Trend Micro last week for a pittance, $300M.  

Now comes a bigger shock--Hp is abandoning "the public cloud"   Source: InfoWorld 10/23/15

Hewlett-Packard is pulling out of the public cloud business, it revealed this week. The HP Helion Public Cloud goes dark on Jan. 31, 2016.
Although this is big news at HP, I’m not sure the cloud computing world is surprised. HP’s public cloud has long struggled for adoption, eclipsed by Amazon Web Services and surpassed by Google, Microsoft, and IBM. As I wrote in 2011, HP's public cloud offered nothing distinctive or compelling -- and it hasn't changed since 2011.
To HP’s credit, it recognizes the reality and is cutting not only its losses, but preventing more customers from wasting resources getting onto Hellion, then having to leave later.
Instead of continuing to invest in an unsuccessful public cloud, HP is focusing on private and hybrid cloud computing. For large enterprise hardware and software providers like HP, that's a natural evolution. By sticking to the data center history with modern tech twists, HP can play to its strengths in technology, marketing, sales -- and its internal culture. HP isn't a cloud company, and it struggled to behave like one.
That said, I’m not sure that private clouds are viable over the long term, as public clouds get better, cheaper, and more secure. It will be hard to argue for private and hybrid clouds when they cost four times as much but deliver much less.
For some years at least, private and hybrid clouds will be areas in which enterprise IT invests, so it makes sense that HP takes advantage of it for as long as possible.
HP is not alone facing this sobering trend. IBM, Oracle, and other large providers face the same challenge of staying fat and happy as more enterprises move to the public cloud. The growth of the cloud means the death of a thousand cuts for large hardware and software companies.

Yet another HP Labs Fellow weighs in

Another blog post on the HP Labs website, this one from researcher Kirk Bresniker, HP Labs Chief Architect and HP Fellow:

Just recently, I was invited to present a paper at a joint meeting of the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS) and The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Rebooting Computing group. Each plays a critical role in bringing together academics, industry researchers, and government agencies to help shape the development of, respectively, semiconductors and computer architecture.

We met over a weekend at Stanford University in the hope of pioneering new approaches to computing in the face of the impending end of semiconductor scaling and guided by the notion that we can't rely on our past trajectory to plot our future course. To paraphrase Dr. Carlo Gargini, founder and past chair of the IEEE Conference on Intelligent Transport Systems, "We used up twenty years worth of scaling techniques in ten years chasing after server performance, and we knew we were doing it at the time, and so now we have to ask ourselves what do we do next?"

The presentations offered some fascinating perspectives on how things might change. Key topics and trends discussed included innovations in machine and natural learning, data intensive computing, trust and security, and memory–driven computing. But we were all promoted by the same question: what will happen when transistors stop getting smaller and faster?

My talk, titled “Memory–Driven Computing,” explored a phenomenon our research and engineering teams at HP have been observing: that conventional compute is not getting faster, essentially because the technologies we've been optimizing for the past 60 years to create general purpose processors (copper connectors, tiers of memory and storage, and relational databases) are all at their limits. It's not just a matter of the physics of CMOS devices, we need far more fundamental change than that.

Additionally, I noted, just as technology improvement curves are flattening out, data volumes are set to explode. Human-generated data will soon be too big to move even with photonics, and will thus be all but impossible to securely analyze in real time. Fundamentally, we’re reaching an inflection point. It may not happen tomorrow, but it’s only a matter of time before we do.

In response to this challenge, HP has been collaborating with IEEE Rebooting Compute and the ITRS, looking at the problem from a holistic perspective and taking into account both the evolutionary and the revolutionary approaches we need to accelerate scientific discovery and insights in the field. Our vision is that the different constituencies that we represent can change physics to change the economics of information technology, catalyzing innovation in successively larger circles.

Just bringing together the leading minds of semiconductor physics and computer architecture isn't sufficient, however. We need to bring an even broader perspective to the table, with more engineering and scientific disciplines represented because there are no more simple answers.

As I shared in my talk, HP Labs’s major research initiative, The Machine, has been examining these questions for several years now with the ambitious goal of reinventing the fundamental architecture of computers to enable a quantum leap in performance and efficiency, while also lowering costs over the long term and improving security. Almost every team within HP Labs is contributing to this effort, along with engineering teams from across the company’s business units. Central to our work is a shift from computation to memory as the heart of information technology.

The Machine will fuse memory and storage, flatten complex data hierarchies, bring processing closer to the data, embed security control points throughout the hardware and software stacks, and enable management and assurance of the system at scale. It may seem counter-intuitive, but by concentrating on massive pools of non-volatile memory, we expect to spur innovation in computation by allowing many different models of computation to work on the same massive data sets. Quantum, deep neural net, carbon-nanotube, non-linear analog – all of these models could be working in concert, connected to petabytes and exabytes of information derived from a world of intelligent devices.

By collaborating with the proven leadership of the ITRS and IEEE, we believe we can broaden, as we must, the impact of the technical innovations that we’re developing with The Machine. The result, we hope, will be the development of new ways to extract knowledge and insights from large, complex collections of digital data with unprecedented scale and speed, allowing us to collectively help solve some of the world’s most pressing technical, economic, and social challenges.