Ted Hanss Leads OSF's End-user Effort

University of Michigan manager has tried to remove 'vendor only' label

Name: Ted Hanss 
Age: 32 
Position: Director, Center for Information Technology Integration, 
University of Michigan 
Years in Current Position: 2 
Years in the Industry: 15 
Pet Open Systems Peeve: "The struggle with vendors to get them 
to understand what the value-add comes from. It's the struggle 
between what's proprietary vs. what's standards-based. And it's 
always a struggle because the multivendor environment is for 
us a reality. Some of the real benefits we see in the object-oriented 
environment are challenged by the fact that the vendors still 
see a lot of proprietary maneuvering available to them. It's 
inhibiting our ability to build interoperable environments." 

In the current attempt by the Open Software Foundation to start listening more to end users, Ted Hanss has been a leader. Hanss, who is director of the Center for Technology Integration, a research and development laboratory at the University of Michigan, has been trying to get vendors to respond to end-users' interests-particularly regarding interoperability of IT products-since he joined OSF's End-user Steering Committee in 1991. As chairman of the committee since 1992, Hanss has been the focus of OSF's efforts since its reorganization last March, to give OSF end-user members more input into its technology development, the new pre-structured technology (PST) process.

Hanss, 32, heads a 50-member staff working on advanced development projects that further the employment of distributed information systems by the University of Michigan. The projects, which are primarily funded by sponsors outside the university, involve such objectives as developing a campuswide file system and developing a mobile and laptop client/server network via telephone links.

"Basically, we are a 'Protocols Are Us' type of organization," Hanss says. "We try to build an open systems standards-based environment. Because of the need for interoperability, we try not to invent new things. We try to take new things that have been agreed on-du jure and de facto standards-and adapt them to our environment, in both scale and heterogeneity. We try to port the new technology, and to enhance the functionality of things that we can acquire, to try to stand on the shoulders of others."

A Biology Major

A native of Syracuse, NY, Hanss grew up in Ann Arbor, MI, and graduated from Boston College in biology in 1983. But he dates his involvement with computers from high school days. During his last two college years his interest in biology waned and he began taking more computer science classes. After college, Hanss followed up an interest in sports journalism by becoming editor of a regional bicycling magazine. "I found myself spending more and more time building front ends to typesetting systems and doing subscription databases" Hanss says. "I decided that if I was spending that much time doing computer-related work, I would move into that industry full time."

He joined the University of Michigan in 1985 as editor of a campus microcomputer newsletter. From there he moved into various management positions, culminating in his current appointment two years ago. Currently, he is finishing his M.B.A. degree at Michigan.

In directing the projects at his laboratory, Hanss takes funding from companies like IBM, Apple and Novell and tries to build systems and infrastructure services that can be scaled up to the size that will work at the university. With IBM sponsorship, the laboratory built an institutional file system that supports desktop workstations throughout the campus. The laboratory is currently working with Novell on a project to link its NetWare network operating system to OSF's Distributed Computing Environment (DCE). Still another project developed gateway services for both PCs and Macintoshes to the Transarc AFS distributed file system, with the gateways serving as translator servers to that environment. Hanss also has done work to make mainframes into both clients and servers in the university's distributed file system.

One of the more exotic projects Hanss has supervised involves the move to mobile or nomadic computing. "We've got a view that the concept of desktop computing will be an anachronism by the end of the decade," he says. "People will basically compute wherever they are. To support that, we started trying to allow people to do everything while mobile that they usually do at their desk." He had to make sure that services would run on laptop platforms and would work over low-speed network connections. Experiments were run connecting laptops to servers from moving trains and cars using cellular phone connections. "Then there are some places a phone doesn't reach. So we have done such things as have a user log activity while disconnected from the network, then we transparently resynchronize all the file system activity once the user reconnects to the network."

OSF Activity

As a prospective user of DCE technology, Hanss attended his first OSF member meeting in 1990. About a year later, when OSF asked for end users to volunteer for more involvement, Hanss raised his hand. He was elected chairman of the 18-member End-user Steering Committee in 1992. "OSF had been primarily a vendor-driven organization," Hanss notes. "The question was how the end-user membership could get its voice and requirements into the processes. The second question was how we as end users could better structure our interactions with each other, to create a place for sharing information and experience with colleagues and peer organizations, as IT professionals." One of the committee's first actions was to host regional meetings where end users could focus on end-user issues outside the regular OSF member meetings.

Since the March reorganization, Hanss has seen activity increase. "OSF has seen its need to change," he says. "Now end users are more strongly involved in getting our issues aired." OSF has, for the first time, appointed an end user to its board of directors, and that director is Joseph De Feo, chief information officer for Barclays Bank in the United Kingdom. Hanss was elected last month as the alternate at-large director. End-user participation also has been enlisted on the new Architecture Planning Council and on the various project steering committees. These were objectives of Hanss's committee. "We wanted a committee that would define an architectural road map for OSF," Hanss says. "And we wanted to see more end-user involvement in oversight of projects. Both of these things have come to pass."

Other activities are ongoing. "Over the past couple of years, we have put together informative letter-writing campaigns to various industry executives in the vendor community to let them know about our requirements for open systems," Hanss says.

Although members of OSF's End-user Steering Committee must be OSF members, Hanss encourages any UniForum members interested in OSF end-user activities to contact him for information about planned activities. He sees those activities in the light of a global end-user movement. "There has been tremendous progress in the past three years since we have headed off in this direction," he says. "We have gone from being just members of the organization to key stakeholders in the direction of the organization, along with the vendor members. We have tried to come up with a unified end-user voice around open systems. And so certainly, any UniForum member who is interested in becoming a part of the global end-user movement without having to create any new organizational structure, would be more than welcome to find out what's going on."