HPTS – High Performance Transaction Systems Workshop

Every two years since 1985, I have gone to the Asilomar Conference Center in Pacific Grove, California for a very special three day gathering.   The HPTS Workshop was started by a number of old-time transaction processing folks including Dieter Gawlick, Andreas Reuter, and Jim Gray.   In 1985, I was a wet behind the ears 29 year old kid who had been working at Tandem Computers for three years.   My friend Jim Gray invited me to attend and this workshop has changed my life in very many ways.

HPTS is an invitation-only gathering comprising the leading workers in the field of Transaction Processing systems.  These are primarily the implementers of large scale systems in industry with the occasional academic thrown into the mix.  Sometimes, the owners of large applications are invited.  Back in the 1980s, the big challenge was to take a huge mainframe and accomplish 1000 transactions per second.   Through the years, this evolved into distributed systems, the Internet, large scale web solutions, high availability, workflow, and service oriented architectures.   Basically, the workshop focuses on how to get huge amounts of work done flowing through computer systems and all the different aspects of making this happen.   The companies involved has changed through the years starting out beginning with IBM, Tandem, and Amdahl dominating the event.  This evolved to include DEC and then Microsoft.   In the late 1990s, the web companies, Amazon, eBay, and others started to be represented.   I was privileged to be chairman of the conference in 1989 and this last year, I was general chairman and was a major contributor to driving the agenda.   The workshop ran from October 7th through 10th and, in addition to the work in .NET starting a new project, this kept me VERY busy in July, August, and September.

This workshop is VERY special to me.  All of my job changes since the 1980s and many of the interesting connections I have made in the industry have been from this workshop.  The spark behind HPTS has always been my friend and mentor, Jim Gray.   I have attended every one of the 12 workshops.   By waiting for two years between them, it is always a shock to see how much the industry has changed.   It is always an invigorating and rejuvenating process for me.   The disappearance of Jim at sea last January made this gathering especially poignant for so many of us who consider Jim a dear friend.

The HPTS workshop has left a broad impact on the industry and on me.  It was the progenitor of an internal Microsoft event called WHIPS (which I helped start) and, in turn, at least three other internal Microsoft events.  I used it when at Amazon as a foundation for an Amazon internal conference.   The database community used HPTS as a basis for the CIDR (Conference on Innovative Database Research) which meets every two years at the same venue, Asilomar in January of the odd-numbered years.   Indeed, it was at CIDR hanging out with Jim just three weeks before his disappearance that I really became determined to return to the public eye and to Microsoft.  Again, my life directly impacted by HPTS and the wake it has left.

The event always runs from Sunday dinner through Wednesday lunch.  We had a number of sessions on scalable platforms, service-based application platforms, and operational issues with wildly scalable environments.   Tuesday, we shifted into database challenges, Rich Internet Applications (RIAs), and some miscellaneous fun talks like SecondLife, Erlang, and Millecomputing.   Wednesday, we heard about the implications of Many-Core computers on our software platforms and wrapped up with some sessions on Service Oriented Architectures.   I gave a shortened first try of my planned talk for TechEd Barcelona due on November 9th (I've given it by the time I'm blogging this but I will explain more about that in a subsequent blog -- trying to catch up on what's happened!).

Traditionally, on Monday nights we have poster sessions with 10 minute talks on whatever the speaker wants to cover.   As usual, I tried to make mine silly and fun.  Normally, Tuesday evening is dedicated to some raucous entertainment (with our colleagues providing the fun) but this year was different.  We decided to hold a Tribute to Jim Gray and I had the responsibility and honor of hosting that event.   This was a special honor and I have written an entire blog entry on the Tribute to Jim Gray at HPTS.

Jim has always taken the job of Local Arrangements Chair and "Nagging Conscience" for HPTS.   We missed his support this year a LOT and, indeed, it was a learning experience for me (helped by my friend Shel Finkelstein now of SAP and Peter Gassner of Verticals on Demand) as we pushed forward to ensure the continuity of this important gathering.  At the end of the gathering, my friends gave me the honor of attempting to follow in Jim's footsteps and assume this role.   For the 2009 HPTS workshop, we have James Hamilton as General Chairman and Margo Seltzer of Harvard and Oracle as the Program Chair.   This is assigned to a new pair of people each event but the Local Arrangements has been maintained by Jim and now that will be my responsibility.

The buildup to HPTS was a TON of work, especially while maintaining a day job starting up a project in .NET.   This has been the reason I have not been blogging as much over the summer.   The event was, in my opinion, very successful and very rewarding.   I miss my friend and mentor, Jim, and am committed to continuing this workshop that he has always loved so much and that I love so much.

-- Pat


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