November 8, 2001 3:15 PM PST

HP: Employee sabotaged Superdome tests

Hewlett-Packard filed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging that a former employee sabotaged performance tests of its top-end Superdome Unix server, crippling sales of the key product.

The Palo Alto, Calif., computing giant said in the suit that Hock-Beng Lim admitted in a meeting with HP that he sabotaged Superdome systems used in performance tests by sending reset commands, reformatting disks and cutting cables of computers involved in the tests. Lim was fired in October, HP said.

CNET News.com's attempts to reach Lim by phone and e-mail were unsuccessful.

Though HP didn't suggest a motive, the company did seek that Lim be required to pay as restitution "any gains, profits or advantages received as a result" of the actions. HP also sought to be paid compensatory, punitive and other damages.

HP also alleged that Lim copied seven years' worth of a colleague's e-mail records, connected to computers to which he had no access privileges, transferred confidential HP information outside the company and deleted records of his actions.

"Benchmark" tests, designed to objectively measure the performance of computing technology, are a key early factor in decision making when customers are buying new computer systems. HP said it discovered unexplained failures in Superdome benchmark tests designed by the independent Transaction Performance Council's TPC-C test and spent more than $1 million trying to track down the cause of the failures.

Superdome, a 64-processor machine often costing more than $1 million, was hammered in January, the first month it went on sale, when Merrill Lynch analyst Tom Kraemer described its performance as "tepid." At the time, HP promised a major increase in the measurement by the summer of 2001.

Superdome is HP's flagship Unix server, the top end of a line that is key to the company's efforts to sell more profitable hardware that boosts services and software revenue while fending off IBM's top-end p690 "Regatta" system and Sun Microsystems' top-end Sun Fire 15K "Starcat."

These high-end networked machines typically house mammoth corporate databases to run computing jobs such as logging phone calls or conducting credit card transactions.

HP argues the benchmark results hurt its sales abilities.

"As a direct...result of Lim's actions...HP was unable to report what would have been industry-leading results on the TPC-C benchmark test in the first half of 2001," the company said in the suit. "The inability to report these results damaged HP's reputation and cost it substantial damages in lost sales to customers who would have purchased HP Superdome servers had HP been able to report the results."

HP's TPC-C score was about 197,000, but the company had hoped to post a result of about 300,000 by the end of the summer, the company said.

HP said it noticed failures in the TPC-C test in early 2001. It made numerous changes to the system but was unable to fix the problem. Moving the tests to a new facility and restricting access to a smaller number of engineers--a group that excluded Lim, despite his request--fixed the problems.

But when the company expanded access later, allowing remote access by Lim, the problems returned, HP said.

"In the face of these developments, HP began monitoring attempts to obtain remote access to the Superdome servers. In August 2001, these monitoring efforts revealed a linkage between Hock-Beng Lim and the spontaneous 'resetting' of the Superdome servers," HP said. "On several occasions...Lim was actively logged on to computers from which he could have accessed the Superdome servers at the same time the Superdome servers spontaneously 'reset.'"

During the evening of Sept. 10, a supervisor found Lim apparently reading e-mail messages on a co-worker's computer and told him to leave. HP tried to prevent Lim from accessing HP computers, but that night Lim "deleted logs and other evidence that showed he had sabotaged the TPC-C benchmark testing project" and "downloaded and transferred to some external site some confidential HP information," the company said.

The company put Lim on administrative leave. In two interviews in late September, Lim "admitted that he had repeatedly and intentionally sabotaged HP's TPC-C benchmark testing project," HP said.

 

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