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Security – yet another trip around the sun!

Or, how a pocket knife helped support fault tolerance …

Ron LaPedis


I did many one-off projects in my twenty-five years at Tandem / Compaq / HP. While I was a sales support engineer in the San Francisco office in the early 1980’s, I helped get one of the earliest ATM networks running. During those days, ATMs were shut off in the middle of the night so that settlement to the mainframe systems could take place. For whatever reason, the NonStop system suffered intermittent failures during settlement, so I was asked by my manager to baby-sit the system for a while.

ron june 18

About a week after I started spending the night, I returned from a break and saw someone at the back of one of the 50GB “washing machine” disk drives. As soon as he saw me, he scurried away and I went over to look at the drive. The back wasn’t quite closed so I popped it off to look inside. One of the screws on the connectors was loose, so I used my Tandem Swiss Army knife to tighten it back up.

After some digging, it turned out the night shift operator on the other system was loosening the connector periodically and this was causing the failures. He said that he was just trying to save his job. After that he was terminated and the bank never looked back. They also bought one of the earliest NonStop II systems.

I was also tasked with connecting a terminal to \SANFRAN for some guy named Tom Perkins, who had an office a few floors above us in 4 Embarcadero Center. I don’t think he ever used it, no matter how easy it was to learn TEDIT and TGAL.

In 1985 I transferred to the Cupertino networking department and a couple years later I was tasked with installing and connecting a new system to the Tandem network. What was this system called? \ATALLA. Twelve years before Martin “John” M. Atallafounded the Atalla that Tandem bought, he helped create HP Labs.


So where is this taking me? In a circle!

Tandem was bought by Compaq, which killed off our beer busts, tried to impose a dress code, and told us that employees and spouses were not allowed to own Apple stock because they were a competitor.

Luckily for us Tandemites, HP bought Compaq and freed us from the “30 days to close a deal” mentality. Years passed and I left HP in 2005 as a gold badge retiree, HP split into HP and HPE, then HPE split into HPE Software and DXC, then through a Reverse Morris Trust, HPE Software merged with Micro Focus.

Since early this year, I have been teaching the formerly-HPE security products to our sales reps and partners, including the Atalla Hardware Security Module and Enterprise Secure Key Manager. Talk about coming full circle!

But all good things must come to an end, and the Atalla hardware line has been sold to one of its former competitors, Utimaco, a worldwide supplier of professional cybersecurity solutions based in Aachen, Germany. The deal will close in the fall of 2018 and I’ll once again say farewell to Atalla.

If you think about it, it made sense for Tandem to buy Atalla since many, if not most of their boxes, were being connected to NonStop servers – the same as today. I don’t really know why HPE decided to spin off Atalla with the software division rather than keeping it attached to the hardware division, where NonStop sits today.

I do know that as a pure-play software company, it really didn’t fit with Micro Focus, and I’ll probably never know if we approached HPE to sell it back to them. What I do know is that the Atalla purchase brought a lot of friends into the Tandem fold.  Some moved on, but some stayed with HPE Software and came to Micro Focus. I’ve had lunches with a couple of them in Sunnyvale, and they are staying with us.

Yes, I’ll miss Atalla, but I will cherish the many friendships that I made with the people who worked there. What a great time it was!