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Book Review – Bill & Dave

Posted November 2nd, 2008 · Please leave a comment · Books

Cover of Bill & Dave: How Hewlett and Packard Built the World's Greatest Company by Michael Malone

Michael Malone says this of his book, Bill & Dave: How Hewlett and Packard Built the World’s Greatest Company:

“This is not [just] a history of the Hewlett-Packard Company, or a book of business theory, or a definitive biography of William Hewlett and David Packard. I have chosen to write this book this way because of the desperate need the business world has right now for an archetype of enlightened management, enduring quality, and perpetual innovation. It is not enough to simply tell the story of Hewlett, Packard and their company. What are needed are the why? and the how?”

So it’s not the (parochial) connection between HP and my company Agilent (an HP spin-out) but the why? and how? that makes this book relevant to signal integrity engineering and to this blog. Sometimes when you have a challenge, you have to dig deep. What can we learn about their four decades of growth, in an industry where most companies fail, or have a success as ephemeral as the reverberation of the word “Netscape” around the floor of the New York Stock Exchange?

The Malone quote above identifies “enlightened management, enduring quality, and perpetual innovation” but it omits HP’s uncanny knack of identifying a need that can be fulfilled by innovation. HP didn’t sell a single computer until the 27th year of its existence (the room-sized 2116A in 1966). They got into the business because they heard that their customers had need to connect HP instruments and HP plotters into “smart” instruments that automated time-consuming, repetitive, and error-prone manual data collection, analysis, and visualization.

How about signal integrity? Where is the need that can be fulfilled by innovation there? A recent article in The Economist contains this graphic about data center spending:

Data Center Spending

Data centers are rapidly growing consumers of electricity and are expected to spend about $40 billion US dollars to consume more than 100 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity a year by 2011.

Although overall spending in power, cooling, and administration, is rising dramatically, the fraction of this going to hardware vendors is shrinking dramatically. The absolute amount is flat or declining, even as the number of servers and the quantity of compute power is increasing.

The message is clear: to get a larger “wallet share” of IT spending, hardware vendors must focus on two burning needs of their data center customers: lower cost of ownership via ever low power consumption, and ease of administration. Signal integrity folks can help differentiate their companies products with lower voltage (hence lower power) interconnects and chips (see for example the Spansion EcoRAM postioning) and by administrative innovations like hot plugging and redundancy.

I know that a lot has changed since Bill and Dave passed the reigns of HP to John Young in 1978. But don’t you agree there’s still something to learn from the HP Way? Please add your comments by clicking on the link below.

Book Review – Bill & Dave – MP3 version.

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