Beautifully engraved specimen certificate from the Tandem Computers Incorporated
printed in 1987. This historic document was printed by the Security-Columbian United States Banknote Company and has an ornate border around it with a vignette of an allegorical man holding lightning bolts with the words "The Power of Parallelism" below. This item has the printed signatures of the Company’s President, and Secretary, and is over 32 years old.
Tandem Computers was an early manufacturer of fault tolerant computer systems, marketed to the growing number of transaction processing customers who used them for ATMs, banks, stock exchanges and other similar needs. Tandem systems used a number of redundant processors and storage devices to provide high-speed "failover" in the case of a hardware failure, an architecture that they called NonStop. Over the two decades from the 1970s into the mid-90s, Tandem systems evolved from custom hardware to commodity CPU designs. The company was eventually purchased by Compaq in 1997 in order to provide that company with more robust server offerings. Today it is still known as NonStop, as a separate product line offered by Hewlett-Packard.
Tandem Computers was founded in 1974 by a group of engineers from Hewlett-Packard, led by James Treybig. Their business plan called for systems that were safe from "single-point failures" that were only slightly more expensive than competing non-fault tolerant systems. Tandem considered this to be very important to their business model. Limiting the additional expense was important since customers often developed procedural solutions to failures when the price of fault tolerant hardware was too high.
The first system was the Tandem/16 or T/16 (later called NonStop I after the introduction of its successor, the NonStop II). The system design was complete in 1975, and the first example was sold to Citibank in 1976. The machine consisted of between 2 and 16 processors, each capable of about 0.7 MIPS with their own memory, I/O buses, and dual connections to their custom inter-CPU computer bus, Dynabus. The modules were constructed with dual paths so that any single failure would always leave at least one bus (both I/O and Dynabus), free for use by the other modules. The CPU was influenced by the HP3000 CPU, a microprogrammed 16-bit stack-based machine with 16-bit user addressing. Like the HP3000, the NonStop CPU added a number of registers for fast access, such as base addresses for global and local variables.
The Tandem NonStop series ran a custom operating system, initially called T/TOS (Tandem Operating System), later Guardian, and finally NonStop Kernel. It supported a "NonStop" programming paradigm that allowed a program to be completely fault tolerant. Several other companies introduced failover technologies but only Guardian supported completely fail-safe transaction processing. A properly constructed Guardian program could fail at any point and resume transaction processing without any loss of data.
While conventional systems of the era, including mainframes, had failure rates on the order of a few days, the NonStop system was designed to fail 100 times less, with "uptimes" measured in years. Nevertheless the NonStop was deliberately designed to be price-competitive with conventional systems, with a simple 2-CPU system priced at just over two times that of a competing single-processor mainframe, as opposed to four or more times of most competing solutions.
NonStop I was followed by the NonStop II in 1981, a slight improvement in speed to 0.8 MIPS, but a more measurable upgrade in memory from a maximum of 1 MB per CPU in the later versions of the NonStop I, to 2 MB in the II, and the addition of a revamped virtual memory system allowing for considerably larger address spaces. The NonStop I was limited to 4 virtual memory segments (System Data, System Code, User Data, User Code) each limited to 128 kB in size.
The NonStop II increased the number of memory maps from 4 to 16, 8 of which were used for I/O, and provided a 32 bit address mode with user-accessible "extended segments" virtually unlimited in size. The same basic system, including the physical packaging, was used in 1983's NonStop TXP system that more than doubled the speed to 2.0 MIPS, and increased the physical memory to 8 MB. In all of these machines the same Dynabus system was used, which had been overdesigned in the NonStop I so they could avoid changing it in the future.
Introduced along with the TXP was a new fibre optic bus system, FOX. FOX allowed a number of TXP and NonStop II systems to be connected together to form a larger system with up to 14 nodes. Like the CPU modules within the computers, Guardian could failover entire task sets to other machines in the network.
The company attempted to grab a piece of the rapidly-growing personal computer market in 1985 with its introduction of the MS-DOS based Dynamite PC/workstation. Sadly, numerous design compromises (include a unique 8086-based hardware platform incompatible with expansion cards of the day and extremely limited compatibility with IBM-based PC's) relegated the Dynamite to serving primarily as a smart terminal. It was quietly withdrawn from the market within a short period of time.
In 1986 a major upgrade to the system was introduced, the NonStop VLX. VLX used a new Dynabus, increasing speed from 13 Mbit/s to 40 Mbit/s (total, 20 Mbit/s per independent bus). They also introduced FOX II, increasing the size of the networks from 1 km to 4 km. Using the original FOX VLX systems could be used with the older NonStop II and TXP's, but these systems were not supported on FOX II.
VLX was partnered with the NonStop CLX, a minicomputer sized machine for smaller installations. The CLX had roughly the same performance as the earlier TXP, but was much smaller and less expensive. By the end of its lifetime the CLX had increased in speed considerably, and competed with the VLX, 1991's CLX 800 was only about 20% slower than the VLX, with the main difference being more limited expansion abilities.
In 1986 Tandem also introduced the first fault-tolerant SQL database, NonStop SQL. Developed totally in-house, NonStop SQL included a number of features based on Guardian to ensure data validity across nodes. NonStop SQL was famous for scaling linearly in performance with the number of nodes added to the system, whereas most databases of the era had performance that plateaued quite quickly, often after two CPUs. A later version released in 1989 added transactions that could be spread over nodes, a feature that remained unique for some time. Later, the SQL database group was first co-opted then absorbed into Microsoft's SQL development effort. One outcome of this collaboration was Microsoft's clustered system technology.
The NonStop Cyclone was introduced in 1989, introducing a new superscalar CPU design. It was otherwise similar to earlier systems, although much faster. In general terms the Cyclone was about four times as fast as the CLX 800, which Tandem used as their benchmark. On the downside the new CPU was complex and expensive, requiring four circuit boards to implement a single CPU.
In 1991 Tandem followed this with RISC-implementations of Guardian, running on MIPS R3000-based CPU modules in the Cyclone/R and CLX/R. Programs written for the earlier stack-based CPU design were automatically translated on the fly into R3000 code in an interpreter, although they ran considerably slower than on earlier machines. Tandem also provided a number of tools to easily port existing object code to the new systems, resulting in code that was some 25% slower than the original Cyclone. Source code compilers were also available. While slower, the new system was considerably less expensive, and it was clear that RISC performance was outpacing CISC. By making the move when they did, they were banking on increases in MIPS performance quickly wiping out any performance disadvantages the system had at the time. In 1993 the NonStop Himalaya K-Series using the MIPS R4400 was shipped.
In 1997 Tandem introduced the NonStop Himalaya S-Series. The S-Series machines were the first systems that changed the underlying architecture of the NonStop family, basing both the I/O and inter-CPU communication on their new ServerNet interconnect. Whereas Dynabus and FOX linked the CPU's together into a ring network, ServerNet was a true point-to-point network replacing both, and ran at much higher speeds. ServerNet later was used as the basis of the InfiniBand industry standard. The S-Series machines continued the use of MIPS processors, including the R4400 and R10000.
All the more recent systems were based on microprocessors, and the internal circuits of these chips are not fully checked. To assure correct computation, each logical processor had two microprocessors operating in lockstep. If the results coming out ever disagreed, the processor was considered to be faulting and instantly stopped. At that point Guardian would move that task to another processor as in earlier systems, guaranteeing that bad data was never written out due to hardware failures.
A different approach was used in a separate family of computers, the Integrity line. These computers used additional redundant CPUs running the same instruction stream. When a fault was detected (e.g. by lockstep mismatch), the failing module was disabled but the redundant module continued processing the instruction stream without interruption. Since this was handled primarily in hardware, it could be used with a slightly modified conventional operating system; Integrity used a Unix variant rather than Guardian. The line was introduced in 1989, apparently as a response to the machines of Stratus Technologies (which were remarketed by IBM as IBM System/88). Although distinct from the NonStop line, the Integrity designs were also based on the MIPS processors. With the introduction of the Integrity S4000 in 1995, the line was the first to use ServerNet and moved towards sharing hardware designs with the NonStop line.
Tandem was acquired by Compaq in 1997. Compaq was in turn acquired by HP in 2002, bringing Tandem back to its original roots. As of 2003, the NonStop product line continues to be produced, under the HP name.
After being acquired by HP, the NonStop line has moved to Itanium based processors, called Integrity NonStop Servers. The original Integrity line is no longer produced but the name 'Integrity' has been adopted by HP for all Itanium based servers.
The NonStop Kernel (NSK) can run multiple OS's. In addition to the Guardian OS, the modern NonStop platform incorporates a POSIX compatible environment (OSS) and Java. There is also an effort by HP to run Linux on the NonStop hardware. Also, Linux or other Unix based operating systems could be installed on the NonStop platform via a virtual machine environment.
Tandem treated its employees with a great deal of respect, especially in the years leading to the company's first billion-dollar yearly sales figure. Innovative programs included:
TOPS ("Tandem Outstanding PerformerS") - every employee in the company could be nominated for this award, which was awarded to about the top 5% of employees annually. Winners (and a guest of their choosing) were treated to an all-expense paid trip to locations such as Hawaii, Vail, and similar resort areas for several days of fun and teambuilding. Management actually worked the event as hosts. TOPS was known, among other things, for its 24-hour open bar, where one could encounter senior VPs and even the company CEO dishing out drinks and stories of the company's early years.
Annual stock option - every employee of the company received a 100-share stock option each fall. As the company's stock rose (or split), employees could share in the company's financial success.
Sabbaticals - all US employees earned a six-week paid sabbatical (contiguous vacation) every four years, which could be augmented with personal vacation. Employees who chose to perform public service during their sabbatical could apply for an additional three weeks.
"First Friday" - the award-winning in-house Tandem TV staff produced a monthly program, broadcast live to all Tandem locations world-wide. While generally educational about some aspect of the company, the programs usually featured some member of the senior management team in a humorous way.
"Beer Bust" - Tandem sponsored a weekly get-together for its employees world-wide. It was called "beer bust" due to the availability of beer and wine, paid for by the company, in addition to other beverages and prepared food. This gave employees a way to cross barriers. It was not uncommon to see employees from various functions huddled in a corner, beer in hand, working to solve a problem.
"Third Class Mail" - Tandem was one of the first companies in which every employee had access to e-mail, which was divided into first, second, and third classes. Third Class mail allowed employees to buy and sell goods, ask questions, and share information that was not company-related. A wide variety of "SIGs" (Special Interest Groups) allowed employees to share a variety of interests with each other.
As the company entered the 90's, however, sales and profits slowed, and many of these innovative programs were either curtailed or eliminated totally. By the end, Tandem was pretty much a company like any other in the computer field, culminating in the buyout by Compaq, who wasted little time eliminating almost all of these. Only beer bust, in a greatly watered down form (literally - many sites banned alcohol), survived.
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About Specimen Certificates
Specimen Certificates are actual certificates that have never been issued. They were usually kept by the printers in their permanent archives as their only example of a particular certificate. Sometimes you will see a hand stamp on the certificate that says "Do not remove from file".
Specimens were also used to show prospective clients different types of certificate designs that were available. Specimen certificates are usually much scarcer than issued certificates. In fact, many times they are the only way to get a certificate for a particular company because the issued certificates were redeemed and destroyed. In a few instances, Specimen certificates were made for a company but were never used because a different design was chosen by the company.
These certificates are normally stamped "Specimen" or they have small holes spelling the word specimen. Most of the time they don't have a serial number, or they have a serial number of 00000. This is an exciting sector of the hobby that has grown in popularity over the past several years.