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What makes for a run-up

Backup pioneer Joerg Groessler dies

Joergpic Joerg Groessler, creator of breakthrough backup programs for HP 3000s, has died at age 55. The German computer scientist and creator of Online Backup, and the first released version of Backpack/3000, passed away quietly in the night of July 23, ending a battle with a brain tumor which had been diagnosed earlier this year.

Groessler celebrated life in his final months in the community, working until his final two weeks on development at ORBiT Software, the company he founded in the early 1980s. Stories describing his transition suite at the Clairmont assisted living facility where he spent his last days included a 62-inch flat-screen monitor to program on and communicate, fed by 2 MB Internet pipe, "because I don't have time to wait."

Groessler was more than an expert programmer, by accounts from community colleagues as well as co-workers in the ORBiT lab. Close friend and business colleague Jane Copeland, who knew him since his seminal HP market days of the 1970s and was in continual contact with Groessler and his family to the very last, said the man's brilliance was apparent.

"He was a genius," said the founder of API Software, a networking solutions provider to the HP 3000 community and beyond. Even while he was continuing lab work for ORBiT, Groessler contributed "very valuable work for us" during his final year, Copeland said.

Mark Klein, ORBiT's lab software manager for more than a decade and a 3000 star who still develops for the company as an independent, said that Groessler's design of Backup — which has stood up through three distinct generations of MPE, from CISC through RISC and beyond — was both an industry breakthrough and prescient.

"He wasn't the typical [lab director] who rides herd over his masses," Klein said. "He told us what he wanted and let us loose to create it." ORBiT's labs, under Groessler's direction, grew to include a star caliber roster of developers including Stan Sieler, Jason Goertz, Paul Taffel, Jacques van Damme and Klein. "A Joerg Groessler ORBiT was a lot of fun to work at," Klein said.

The design of the 3000's backup solutions came at a time when the fundamental concept of backing up computers was still in its infancy, Klein said. Later, the elegance of his designs paved the way for rapid development.  "We could proof a module even before the entire product was built," he explained. "In the late 1980s that was unique."

Groessler architected the design of Online Backup — which has become Online Backup+ in its latest version — employing such forward thinking that the software still has performance headroom, more than 20 years after it was introduced, Klein said.

Groessler created the 1.05 version of the first third-party tool for backing up MPE systems, software which became Tymlabs' Backpack after re-development by Tymlabs' Technical Director  Winston Krieger. Between the two products, Groessler's initial designs and architecture have dominated more than 90 percent of backup for HP 3000 systems, including those at Hewlett-Packard's own labs and business units.

His subsequent program, Online Backup, grew to an installed base of more than 6,000 licenses by the late 1990s, placing it among the top five for the 3000 market of its day. Groessler gave HP 3000 customers a more intelligent alternative to the HP-included STORE and RESTORE programs in the 3000's MPE operating system. The breakthrough was the ability to select files using rules, versus the blanket backup of STORE and RESTORE.

As the 3000 became more of a mission-critical choice, with its unique interactive abilities winning a place for the system against IBM in the minicomputer market, Groessler's work ensured the safety of countless gigabytes of corporate information.

Groessler is survived by his sister Margaret, who cared for him at an Oakland assisted living facility where he sped about on a customized wheelchair. His June celebration of life event drew more than 100 industry lights, taking over the dining room. "He was active to the end, and vital," said a co-worker. He set a wonderful example of celebrating life."

A story is being told this week about Groessler disappearing from the care facility one morning after an especially hard evening of struggle with his condition. While friends grew worried, he returned from a trip to Fry's Electronics, where his driver had taken him to buy a needed computer cable.