The First Ten Years of HP Computers small logo


From MEASURE Magazine, October 1976
Courtesy of the Hewlett Packard Company

Passing the 10-year mark

Another very informative document describing the evolution of computer business at HP from the birth of the 2116A in 1966 up to ten years later. It was a four pages article published in the October 1976 issue of MEASURE Magazine.

The contents, word for word, and photographs are reproduced below. The original newspaper page layout's incompatibility with Web page layout, and the necessity for good readability are the only reasons for this reconstruction.






HP's computer business:


Passing the 10-year mark


With the introduction of the 2116A
instrumentation computer at the 1966 Fall
Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco,
HP entered one of the biggest
growth industries of the past decade.




Ten years ago, MEASURE reported on the introduction of HP's first computer, the 2116A. At that time, we said that if automobile technology could possibly have advanced at the same rate as computers in the previous decade, we could have bought a car capable of 30,000 miles per hour for one dollar, f.o.b. Detroit. Now, ten years after HP's entry into the computer business, we can't resist applying our admittedly fanciful analogy to the decade from 1966 to 1976. It turns out that if the cost, the increased speed and power of today's computers were equaled with automobile advancements, our (then) Mach-39 car would now travel at a mind-blowing 75,000 miles per hour and would cost less than 10 cents. 1976 marks two other significant anniversaries in the computer field in addition to HP's tenth. The first sale of a computer, the Univac I, took place 25 years ago. Sold by the company now called Sperry Rand, the first Univac I filled a huge room in the headquarters of the U.S. Census Bureau.

Five years before that, in 1946, the very first electronic digital computer was unveiled at the University of Pennsylvania. It was called ENIAC, for Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer. ENIAC was a thirty-ton monstrosity that occupied 15,000 square feet of floor space and contained 19,000 vacuum tubes. Dozens of scurrying technicians had difficulty keeping it in operation for more than a half hour. Its memory was limited to twenty ten-digit numbers. And although its computing power and speed seemed impressive at the time, the new HP-67 hand-held programmable calculator is far more powerful. The computer has certainly come a long way in thirty years. But just how far has HP's own computer business come in the last ten?
How did it start, and where are we now?

The most recent addition to HP's computer lineup is the HP 1000 family of small computer systems. Designed for computation, instrumentation and operations management applications, it offers a new processor that executes programs 60 to 100 percent faster than previous models.


To begin with, it was conceived by the former Dymec Division as an extension of HP's line of measuring instruments. Today HP offers computers that are adaptable to all kinds of specialized applications, as well as general-purpose computers that can do dozens of jobs at once and compete with the likes of IBM. Derek Smorthit, an HP sales manager in the United Kingdom, put it in perspective rather graphically. "The reason for introducing a computer at that time was to complement our instruments activity," he said. "Since then, the tail has succeeded in not just wagging the dog but whirling it around!"
When HP first entered the field, most computers on the market still had to be pampered in air-conditioned rooms with spring-loaded floors. HP assumed that an instrumentation computer, as the 2116A was termed, should pass the same environmental tests as the instruments it would be teamed with. So HP quickly took the lead in ruggedness and reliability, and helped transform the computer into a go-anywhere, do-anything tool.
One of the first 2116As sold is still being used aboard a research vessel operated by Woods Hole Institute of Oceanography in Massachusetts, which has purchased at least a dozen other HP computers since then. The original one still works like a charm ten years later-even though it's been bounced around, loaded and unloaded and exposed to the corrosive salt air.

Learning from customers ...

Feeling its way in an unfamiliar business, HP was learning much from its customers."They started showing us all kinds of things our computers could do besides data acquisition," says Bruce Noel, who has been in HP computer marketing for the past seven years. "They showed us that the same computer that collected the data could also analyze it."
An HP contribution that Bruce feels was unique when it was introduced a few years later was the HP 2000 time-sharing system, a first in the minicomputer field. Before that, the capability of accessing a computer from multiple terminals was only available in large systems.

"HP's time-sharing minicomputers were particularly well qualified for the educational market because they offered economical solutions to schools. We offered the lowest cost per terminal, so educators could use the system to teach computer technology or as sort of a 'super calculator' in the classroom. And they could write programs for computerassisted instruction, or CAl, using HPdeveloped application programs."
By that time, HP was also moving toward the development of general-purpose data processing systems, according to Bruce. "But there was a lot of concern in the company as to whether we should get into that market, so a major turning point was the decision to do it within the scope of a minicomputer. The HP 3000 was born out of that."
Jim Schmidt, now North American sales manager, was one of the first field engineers to migrate toward selling computer products. "We didn't know the business very well then" he admits. "At first, most of the people we were selling to were measurement-oriented like ourselves. Data processing was still being done with large machines, and we didn't relate to those people very well."
In selling instruments and instrumentation systems, HP had traditionally dealt with the end users of its products. Selling general-purpose computers turned out to be a whole new ballgame. "In EDP, there was usually some central group of people setting policy -deciding how that company was going to do business- and they would get involved. If people in another part of the same company wanted to use computers, it might not fit in with the long-range plans."
The same was true within HP, and EDP managers weren't necessarily committed to using HP computers. "They had to be sold, just like anyone else," Jim recalls.
Eventually, HP became one of its own best customers as well as a proving ground for demonstrating the capabilities of small computers. "Mini data centers" began to appear around the company as the philosophy of decentralized processing capability, using minicomputers, caught on.
Ten years ago, the total computer capability within HP did not even begin to match the power of a single HP 3000 Series II system. Now, it's estimated that there are more than 200 HP computers, including over thirty HP 3000s, in daily use throughout the company. They do everything from process control to artwork generation. They're used for management reporting and accounting, and even help design new computers and other products.
One money-saving application within HP is COMSYS, the communication system that speeds messages and order information all over the world at a fraction of the cost of conventional telecommunication. HP 2100 systems in most HP locations "talk" to each other under the control of a unique software system developed at HP.

The central batching and processing facility in Palo Alto is still sometimes called the "2116 room" after the computer that was originally used in the system.
When the 2116A was introduced, HP offered only the basic computer and memory. The need for computer "peripherals" spawned another major segment of HP's present-day business in data products. Equipment for tape storage came first, then disc storage when it became practical. Today HP also makes CRT terminals and line printers, and offers the most complete line of peripherals of any maker of small computers. Eight HP divisions now manufacture and service computer products.
Perhaps the most revealing measure of how far HP has come in the last ten years is contained in the growth statistics. In both sales and earnings, HP computer products operations are now larger than the entire company was a decade ago.

All things to all people ...

In the 1930's, the British mathematician and scientist A. M. Turing envisioned a universal computing machine of the future. The "Turing machine" supposedly would store an unlimited amount of information and be able to simulate anything.
The modern computer, by nature, is almost a fulfillment of Turing's prophecy. It can be programmed to simulate a product, an organization, or anything the user wants to study.
In Southern California, an HP 3000 helps engineers in Riverside County design flood-control systems. By simulating a variety of alternatives, it aids in the design of channels, storm drains and levees to control water run-off. It would be too costly to evaluate all the alternatives any other way.

Students at Ainslie Park Comprehensive School in Edinburgh, Scotland, load a mark reader with cards they've programmed at their desks using an ordinary lead pencil. Low-cost HP equipment and software are used in schools all over the world, and HP was the first minicomputer manufacturer to publish textbooks for use with classroom computers.


At DeAnza College in Cupertino, California, an HP computer system in a psychology lab analyzes brain wave activity for experiments in animal and human behavior. At the same time, the computer directs other terminals collecting data such as heart rate, body temperature and galvanic skin response.

In Macon, Georgia, an HP computer collects and analyzes data from miniature forest fires. The idea is to learn to control the amount of smoke produced under different forest and weather conditions so that forests can be systematically burned. Such "prescription burning" prevents devastating wildfires, controls tree diseases and helps prepare planting sites. The complex relationships studied with the aid of the computer involve forestry, physics, chemistry, meteorology, mathematics and engineering.
At Lockheed-Georgia Company, testing wings for the giant C-5 Galaxy involves computer simulation of flight conditions by an HP computer. The HP 2100 system virtually "flies" the wings and its parts through more than a lifetime of operation -the equivalent of thousands of hours of flying, taking off and landing- to test for fatigue resistance.
A Palo Alto, California, firm is using an HP 3000-based system for interpreting satellite photos. Objectives include studying forest patterns and wildlife habitats, monitoring reforested areas, and detecting tree diseases.
In Portland, Oregon, an HP computer eliminates human error in grinding precision lenses. A Bay Area ticket agency uses a small central computer and multiple terminals to control seating sales being made in several locations. Elsewhere in Northern California, minicomputers in a large winery guide and monitor the flow of thousands of cases of wine through an intricate maze of conveyors -making sure the right order gets on the right delivery truck. An HP computer has even gone to Antarctica for tests involving global air pollution and temperature trends.
But for every HP computer in an exotic setting or application, there are many others handling more routine chores. In such a fast-growing, boom-or-bust business, it's always tempting to try to take too many directions at once. "The minicomputer is a very ubiquitous product," Jim Schmidt told us. "We've had to decide what we're going to do and bring some discipline to our selling program."
In education, where we have a firm foothold, advancing technology and lower prices have brought computers within the reach of more and more schools and universities. HP has developed educational software packages and sponsored a "users group" made up of educators.

"We're still very committed to instrumentation, too," says Marco Negrete, Group engineering manager. "We want to reach users like ourselves, which means we'll concentrate mainly on design, process control, data collection, what we call operations management, and accounting and financial."
Some say that with the advent of tiny memory and logic chips we're on the threshold of a new generation of computers-although the "generations" have become nearly indistinguishable since transistors were replaced by integrated circuits in the sixties.
The trend, of course, is toward smaller and smaller machines that do more and more. With the HP 3000 Series II, HP is moving toward the concept of the "distributed system," made up of decentralized data processors that could each command their combined power when necessary. With the HP 1000 systems introduced early this month, HP has a whole new family of compact, low-cost, high performance computers. Although nobody we talked to is making any firm predictions, it's safe to say they expect the next ten years in the computer business to be even more exciting than the last. In 1966 Jim Schmidt thought -rather conservatively in retrospect- that the field offered "great growth potential." Of the prospects for the future he says, simply, "It boggles the mind."

The 2116A that bears serial number 1, pictured in....1967 dangling over the deck of the research vessel Cham., is still in use today. Tom Aldrich, who was then a programmer for Woods Hole Institute of Oceanography, today says it was "the most reliable piece of equipment I've ever worked with." In all the years he used it, he recalls only three times that the 2116A gave him any problems. "In fact," he said, "I have used that experience to establish a standard for minicomputer operation."



Using an HP 9600 high-speed computer system,
smoke samples from a miniature forest fire are
collected and analyzed at the Southern Forest
Fire Laboratory in Macon, Georgia. The object
is to improve techniques of controlled burning,
sometimes used in forest management.



With the help of HP computers and peripherals, Trus Joist Corporation of Boise, Idaho, designs complex wood and steel structures like this section of a stadium dome. The company's distributed system includes an HP 2100 computer and twelve optical mark readers located in offices throughout the U.S. and Canada.


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