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InventionĀ²: The Combined Strengths of HP Labs and Compaq Research

September, 2002

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Long before HP merged with Compaq, their research labs were well acquainted -- as rivals.

Researchers in the two companies had blazed technology trails in enabling faster, more economical computers via RISC architecture and developing advanced handheld and wireless devices, and they'd raced to reach such milestones as connecting to the ARPAnet, the precursor to the Internet.

"These are the people we used to compete with and who used to give us heartburn every year," says Dick Lampman, senior vice president of research and director of HP Labs, the company's central research organization. "The idea that we're on the same team now, pulling together, is exciting."

moving forward faster

With the added capabilities of about 100 Compaq researchers, HP Labs is putting its brainpower behind future digital imaging and printing, next-generation computer systems, and software and solutions to simplify building and managing the emerging information infrastructure.

"It's an exciting opportunity to strengthen HP's research labs with these people, their ideas and talents," Lampman says. "The bottom line is that we will be better able to move our key research programs forward faster."

The Compaq team brings particular expertise in computer systems and information management (including fault-tolerant and nonstop computing) and handhelds. It also brings a lesser-known asset: experience in bioinformatics.

With the merger, HP became the leading provider of computing equipment to the fast-growing bioinformatics field. HP Labs bioinformatics research is in its formative stages, with some ongoing genomic research. By integrating with a Compaq team working in this area, the project gains "a jump start," Lampman says.

taking research in new directions

Former Compaq scientists expect their research to benefit from joining an organization with the technological breadth of HP Labs, which ranges from color science to computer architecture to nanotechnology.

Rich Zippel, director of the Cambridge Research Lab, anticipates collaborations that will deepen his team's research and take it in new directions.

"It gives us a virtual size much larger than our real size," says Zippel. "We feel we're part of a much bigger organization that's pulling together."

mobile services and searchable multimedia

Zippel's team is exploring ways to add capabilities to handheld devices, including voice or video conferencing and roaming across several physical networks.  The ultimate aim: to free people from wired connections to the Internet so they can wander freely in the world and use their resources wherever they go.

That melds with the HP Labs' Cooltown vision to integrate the physical and virtual worlds. Researchers are inventing technologies to create a responsive world of mobile services, with devices that react differently according to who's using them, in what environment and for what purpose. 

The Cambridge team is also working to extend the capabilities of  their Speechbot technology, https://speechbot.research.compaq.com the first Web site for spoken audio content. It indexes more than 15,000 hours of searchable video and audio content, including White House speeches and popular radio talk shows like "The Connection." Researchers hope to add images and additional video, with the goal of allowing easy access, navigation and organization of vast repositories of multimedia content.

future NonStop products

The Enterprise Systems and Data Management lab, also formerly of Compaq, focuses on research strategic to future NonStop products. In particular, the lab has concentrated on improving performance of ultra large-scale parallel databases and on technology to support enterprise application integration and business process orchestration.

The goal: to enhance the unique capabilities of the Nonstop database with active event management to position it as a real-time messaging hub for business process integration within and across enterprises. Researchers have worked to build a high-performance, scalable, transactional message engine, which receives, transforms, stores, enriches and delivers events from publishers to subscribers, using NonStop SQL as a message store, a reliable messaging protocol and XML as message format.

new opportunities for collaboration

One of the lab's current projects involves technologies to make it possible to use information in previously unanticipated ways. Researchers hope to do that by achieving the semantic integration of varied information sources within and across enterprises.

Rivka Ladin, director of the Haifa, Israel-based lab, says joining HP provides the opportunity to tackle more complex problems.

"This opens up a wider range of possible problems for us to work on as well as opportunities for collaboration with a wider range of potential customers for technologies that we develop," she says. "We're excited about being able to have an impact on the company."

contributors to Alta Vista

One of the best-known of the Compaq labs to join HP is the 18-year-old Systems Research Center (SRC, pronounced "circ,") which developed the indexing technology behind the AltaVista search engine, the first to index every word on a page and provide word-based retrieval of relevant pages.

Now re-christened "SRC Classic" the lab joined with the Information Dynamics Laboratory into a new and more diverse SRC. This new center is exploring the design and implementation of novel information systems, which will include modeling and simulating these systems to perfect design and improve performance.

visualization tools, handheld security and more

"Our charter has always been to do important work in computer science that also has an impact on the company," says Lyle Ramshaw, who manages SRC Classic.

Ramshaw says the team is working to let private networks handle more traffic by cleverly routing some packets over the Internet; to speed up inner loops of critical programs by using theorem-proving techniques to generate near-optimal machine code for those loops; to help biologists visualize and compare the huge trees of genetic data; and to enhance the security of handhelds by keeping owners' private date on a surrogate computer.

RISC pioneers

Western Research Lab (WRL, pronounced "whirl") the oldest of the four former Compaq labs, was founded in 1982 to pursue RISC computing. Their Titan computer provided the foundations that led to the landmark Alpha chip family.

"Our overall philosophy is hire people who have a breadth of knowledge and interests and have also demonstrated the ability to go deep in some particular area," says Bill Hamburgen, acting director of WRL. "We work at the edges of conventional approaches to problems, and aim to recognize where paradigm shifts are possible."

improving server performance and reliability

One of the team's current projects is exploring how to use power-management capabilities researchers developed for handheld computers to manage power for servers in large data centers. That work complements ongoing research in HP Labs on the growing problem of heat generation and energy use in increasingly powerful microprocessors and data centers.

Other WRL projects include improving enterprise-class server performance and reliability, increasing runtime in mobile systems and enabling mutually immersive telepresence, as well as investigations into network performance and protocols.

history of technical achievements

In addition to current research expertise, the Compaq labs bring to HP an impressive history of technological contribution that encompasses achievements from Digital Equipment Corp. (acquired by Compaq in 1998) and Tandem (acquired by Compaq in 1997).

Among the invention milestones:

  • the Itsy, the first pocket computer with desktop performance. The Itsy inspired the highly successful iPAQ handheld computer.
  • Personal Jukebox, the first portable MP3 player with an on-board hard disk that provided 50 times the storage capacity of other models of its day.
  • important contributions to the Nonstop server platform (developed at Tandem), which runs ultra-demanding jobs such as the New York, London, Hong Kong and Tokyo stock exchanges, and Bank of America's automated-teller machine network.
  • first widespread application of Linux on a PDA, including the iPAQ and Jornada, and continued open source coordination through https://www.handhelds.org
  • first multi-media search technology for the Web
  • Palo Alto Internet Exchange, the first successful neutral, commercial Internet exchange in the United States, had its roots in WRL.
  • pioneering work in chip multiprocessing (the Alpha-based Piranha design put eight CPUs on a single chip).


By Jamie Beckett

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