Bill Holt: MOSES Leader Writes Dictionary

Air Force career led down a UNIX path for US West manager

Name: William H. Holt Age: 48 Place of Birth: Hanford, CA Position: Manager of Production Open Systems Administration, US West NewVector Group. Years in Current Position: 5 Years in the Industry: 13

Cars He Drives: 1986 white Corvette ("My Baby"); 1992 Subaru Station Wagon ("My Trash Hauler")

Last Book Read: "The 101st Airborne at Normandy" by Mark Bando

Pet Open Systems Peeve: "Vendors who advertise themselves as being players in open systems but only want you to use their products, making it proprietary to that vendor."

Favorite Piece of Personal Philosophy: "Dumb luck prevails over skill and cunning. I believe that happens quite a bit, but you've also got to make your own luck at the same time."

It was 1989 and Bill Holt had just retired from the U.S. Air Force and begun working for US West NewVector Group, based in Bellevue, WA, a division that manages the cellular communications business of US West. He was on an airplane headed for San Francisco to attend a system administration course, and was reading a new system administration book when he ran across a term he didn't know. "I didn't have the slightest idea what the author was talking about," Holt recalls. He doesn't remember the term today, but he does remember the frustration he went through. "I reread the page before the term and the page after the term several times. I went to the glossary and the term was in the glossary. I read the definition and I still didn't understand what the term meant. I thought, 'I've been in this business for 10 years and I should understand these terms but I don't.'" Thus was born the book, UNIX: An Open Systems Dictionary, co-authored by Holt and Rockie J. Morgan and published by Resolution Business Press, Bellevue, WA. (Resolution Press may be contacted at (206) 455-4611 or

What Holt had in mind was a glossary of UNIX terms written in plain English. The project assumed larger proportions when the publisher decided it should be a dictionary, and consumed the next five years. Since the idea was to make the definitions free of "computerese," the editor, Karen Strudwick, sent all the definitions she didn't understand back for rewriting. "We tried not to make the definitions technobabble," Holt says. The book became available last month in Seattle area bookstores and includes, according to the cover, "over 6,000 jargon-free definitions." Holt credits Morgan with interpreting most of the technical terms. Holt gleaned most of the terms from a collection of UNIX books, plus his religious reading of a variety of trade publications.

But Bill Holt is more than a computing manager and dictionary author. He was one of the founders of the Massive Open Systems Environment Standard group (MOSES), has been active in helping plan seminars in conjunction with UniForum, is president of the Sequent Users Resource Forum-an association of Sequent computer users-and serves as a member of Network Computing magazine's readers advisory council.

Started with UNIX in 1981

A native of central California, Holt came to UNIX by way of his career as an Air Force supply officer. After graduating from California State University, Fresno, with a degree in retail marketing, Holt entered the Air Force via ROTC in 1969. In 1981, upon reporting for a new assignment at the headquarters of Air Force Logistics Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, OH, Holt found himself in a newly-created program office called the European Distribution System. "Its purpose in life was to try to implement the Air Force's first UNIX system in an operational environment by interconnecting all the bases within Europe using the Defense Data Network," Holt recalls. "It would have alternative dial-up systems for redundancy, to redistribute parts between the Air Force bases in the event of a war in Europe, when there would be no free flow of spare parts coming from the United States after the war started."

Holt was brought into the program as the supply officer, whose job was to make supply decisions related to programming, support and other elements. "As time went on, I learned more about UNIX. We were doing everything in UNIX." He took UNIX courses at the Air Force Institute of Technology and through various vendors. He then became program manager for the Logistics Command, Control, and Communications program, responsible for the purchase and implementation of UNIX system for the European program. After two years of managing that effort, he was appointed director of the entire European program, consisting of the implementation of the UNIX system in Europe, along with communications, the installation of large warehouses, and the purchase and support of aircraft to fly the parts between the European bases.

Holt retired before the project was completed. Later, in the wake of the political changes in Europe and the lessening of East-West tensions, the program was canceled before it was fully implemented. Holt believes that decision was correct, but adds, "If there hadn't been a change in the environment of the world that we've see over the last 10 years, it would have been a stupid mistake."

In his current job, Holt manages the production and support of UNIX systems and a data network for NewVector, the group that the public knows as US West Cellular, whose business is cellular telephone service in 14 western states. "I've got 21 large Sequent UNIX boxes sitting on the floor, ranging in size from 256MB of memory with six CPUs and about 8GB of disk on it, to the large-end box, which has 12 CPUs with one and one half gigabytes of memory and 125GB of disk on it," Holt explains. "We run an Oracle client/server environment and a UNIX flat file environment with about 50 percent of the company run on the UNIX boxes."

The machines perform various functions, including centralized event monitoring and alarming for the entire cellular network; credit checks and verifications for all new customers; running customer service applications used to talk to customers and respond to customer questions using an Oracle database; and support for roamers-cellular subscribers visiting from outside the cellular area. Another system does nothing but take data off other machines and perform traffic measurement and analysis. Still another machine, about to go into production, will automate the processing of bills, ending what Holt calls "one of the largest sneaker nets in the world."

Helped Found MOSES

Before the founding of MOSES, Holt was a member of the Very Large Database (VLDB) group, started by Oracle. "Some of the people involved, such as Burlington Coat Factory, Millipore, Oracle and ourselves had decided that we needed to form something to address the other problems besides just databases, in managing a large UNIX data center. We beat the bushes for people who were interested." They found, in addition to those companies, British Telecom and Sequent Computer Systems. MOSES had its first meeting in April 1992 and organized to "identify and develop standards for common methods, tools, utilities, policies and procedures used in operating large UNIX data centers." The group is defining a specification for those elements that would promote consistent operational performance in a large-scale UNIX production environment. Members try to share definitions of practical standards and operational procedures that manage how systems are set up and managed.

MOSES will hold a conference in conjunction with UniForum Feb. 9-11, which will immediately follow a meeting of the Sequent Users Resource Forum (SURF) in San Diego. "A lot of the future of where MOSES is going to go will depend on how successful we turn out to be with this show," Holt says. More information on the MOSES conference is available by calling Debbie Bonnin, UniForum conference and seminar manager, at (408) 986-8840 ext. 12.

Samples from the Book

Definitions from UNIX: An Open Systems Dictionary by William H. Holt and Rockie J. Morgan: