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Tandem History Page
The Early Days
The company, Tandem Computers, was among the first manufacturers of fault-tolerant computer systems. The company was formed by some ex-HP (Hewlett Packard) engineers, who vehemently believed in the potential of a fault-tolerant computer system they had designed, but found few takers within HP. This group of engineers, led by James Treybig (aka Jimmy Treybig, or just Jim), went on to form Tandem Computers in 1974. The others in the group included Mike Green (who had designed the industry's first time-sharing system, also at HP), Jim Katzman (who had helped design the HP 3000 before leaving HP), and Jack Loustanou (a finance guy, who joined the startup Tandem Computers, from the venture capitalist firm Kleiner and Perkins).
The computer they had designed guaranteed protection against single-point of failures - all of them. However, the system also provided, in most cases, protection against multiple points of failure, though that was not guaranteed all the times. What this meant is that, you unplug any CPU, hammer any hard disk, cut any cable anywhere in the system, or disconnect any power supply in the system, and the computer system would just continue running.
This kind of fault tolerance was long desired in industries where the cost of downtime, due to a computer system failure, was huge. This included mostly the financial industry, stock exchanges, telephone exchanges and health care industry. Primary all industries with OLTP (Online Transaction Processing) requirements. The Tandem Computers have, however, found use in may other varied industries. The Tandem Computers, by some accounts, are superior in the processing of OLTP applications - consisting of a large number of short transactions - but not so good at the raw processing power required for batch programs.
James Treybig, who co-founded the company and remained its CEO from 1974 to 1996, was a well respected and adored leader. He is credited for having made Tandem Computers among the best place to work in the Silicon Valley. The people-oriented culture was part of Treybig's vision, and is still fondly remembered by most ex-Tandem employees to this day. A native of Houston, Texas, Jimmy attended Rice University to get his BA degree in 1963 and Bachelor of Engineering degree in 1964, and much later, earned an MBA from the Stanford University.
To fund the start up company, yet to be named Tandem Computers, Treybig approached the leading venture capitalists of the day - Kleiner and Perkins. Treybig proposed the design of his fault-tolerant, modular and scalable computer to Kleiner and Perkins, who supported and encouraged Treybig to go ahead and startup the company and manufacture the computer. Both, Kleiner and Perkins, were very hands-on and technology-savvy, and that helped them see the potential in Treybig's proposed design of the fail-safe computer.
All the founders took five months to plan everything - business plan, detailed product design, marketing and finances - before setting out to execution. The group started in June 1974 and finished all the planning in mid-November 1974. The first computer that the infant company shipped was called Tandem/16 or T/16 and was shipped to Citicorp to run their phone directory system. The computer was later called NonStop-I after the introduction of its successor NonStop-II.
The Tandem Computers logo:
What made the Tandem Computers company a much sought after employer and an icon in the silicon valley, with revenues going from nothing to 300 million in seven years, was its people-friendly culture, as can be seen from its core policy, which was summarized in the following five points:
1 All people are good
If you look closely as the above points, which are not dissimilar in essence to the vision-mission-values statements created by many companies today, you would notice that none of these relate directly to the business of the company. What the founders seem to have believed is that once you take care of the people and empower them, the business will take care of itself.
What this meant in the real terms was that every Friday early evening, there was to be a beer burst where all the employees, irrespective of their level in the organization, would get together for a couple of drinks. Jimmy T was spotted often at these parties, and a prank to push the most recently promoted manager into the swimming pool was attributed to him!
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