Friday, October 2, 2015

How many DBAs does it take to change a light-bulb should it not be NonStop?

Taking a look at street signs may not be the best way to tell in which direction you are headed but on the other hand, NonStop roadmaps contain strong signage as to what is coming next …

Standing at the intersection of Confidence Drive and 100 Year Party Court, I knew I was back in Boulder County. It’s nearby our home and a place we routinely visit for early morning muffins and bagels.  Apart from having a good dose of confidence it would be presumptive for most of us to suggest that they could keep any party kicking along for a hundred years and yet, after some forty plus years in the marketplace, NonStop is doing just fine and might even make that anniversary. Irrespective of that possibility it did get me thinking this week about what all is involved in ensuring something just keeps on going – just like the famous Energizer Batteries in the television commercials.

No matter the month or even the year, picking up on this theme, it seems as though I can never escape routine maintenance. Whether it’s a car needing new tires, the outside BBQ needing a thorough clean (as fall approaches) or changing light bulbs inside the house! I just finished pulling out the old bulbs and replacing with newer, more eco-friendly variety, and once I started I was surprised at just how many light bulbs had failed over the summer. Then again, I was reminded that maintenance is never a one-time shot as no one has ever suggested that any apparatus only ever needs to be looked at just once.

Since time immemorial, data centers have been subject to regular maintenance. At first, it was simply a case of cleaning the card reader and removing paper dust from the printers. Part of any service agreement for a major system included scheduled down time for maintenance for which enterprises paid a small fortune to ensure was performed regularly and to a plan. But can we safely ignore some tasks today and save the money? Surely, just rip out the server that’s failed and replace it with a new one – what’s the point of spending time trying to fix a computer that is little more than a board? Has the price of industry-standard components dropped to the point where we really do enjoy the luxury of having disposable systems?

Just recently I attended the MATUG user group meeting in Herndon, Virginia. This was held on the HP property that is located on EDS Drive, close by Washington D.C.s Dulles airport. Even though our navigation system couldn’t help but call the thoroughfare Ed’s Drive, nevertheless, we were reminded how times change and how street names once thought impervious to change harken back to former glory days. Nearby where we live, here in Boulder, CO, are the former premises of the once mighty Storage Technology and while the buildings were all demolished a while ago, off the arterial highway that now takes you to a shopping mall there are sign posts for both Disk Drive and Tape Drive that lead nowhere at all.

HP Product Manager, Mark Pollans, did an excellent job of reviewing the NonStop product roadmap and while he had the audience literally “Oohing” and “Ahhing” on a regular basis, one item did catch my attention. I know I have heard reference made to it in the past, but for some reason this time it had me thinking. When it came to supporting Solid State Disks (SSDs), that are essentially extensions to the thumb drive technology we all have come to depend upon of late, it wasn’t a straightforward task for the engineers at HP.

The problem is that they just wear out. Just when you least expect it, they're not going to let you write anything more. Who knew; makes me take a second glance at all the thumb drives I have stashed in a side draw of my desk that each carries a different PowerPoint presentation. The wear out monitor is a feature of the drive and it is externalized via Open System Management (OSM); it is OSM that will alert you as an SSD is getting close to wearing out – giving customers ample time to replace the drive.

But here’s the thing, as I understood it from Mark, when it comes to the HP NonStop systems using SSDs, there’s now new capabilities incorporated into the drive that provide feedback on just how long they can be used so that monitoring software can graph the potential failure time so enterprises will not be caught out by surprise.

Vendors working in the application monitoring space are also aware of this property of SSDs on NonStop and assure me that they have this base well and truly covered. All sounds rather simple when you think about it – letting us know when you can no longer write data to an SSD - but no, seems that bringing this to our attention (as it is about to happen) was a requirement of the HP NonStop team.  Ooh! And yes, Ahh!

And this cuts to the very core of why we have faith in the NonStop engineering team. Not for them is an easy path, but rather, tackling every problem from the perspective of the user and not just individual items in isolation, but how they impact the total operation of a NonStop system. I am often told of just how good the hardware has become and I am being questioned about the continuing relevance of NonStop.

To many folks, it’s once again a case of thinking that good enough is well, yes, good enough. But it isn’t and it’s proven time and time again in the real world. Outages hurt and there’s no ducking the issue and yes, planned outages hurt every bit as much as unplanned outages – I still become highly agitated when my online banking application tells me that it will be down for maintenance Sunday between the hours of 4:00pm and midnight. What the heck is that all about … But now, for users of NonStop systems with SSDs it’s safe to run even the most accessed NonStop SQL (NS SQL) tables on the latest in SSD offerings from HP.

When the NonStop developers first started discussing the need to provide an SQL database on NonStop one of the most important properties covered was how to keep SQL up and running even during times of maintenance? As I am so often reminded, the very nature of SQL and the relational database manager supporting it, database administrators (DBAs) need to run certain utilities that check out just how fragmented the database has become and then, after gathering statistics, and then perform routine maintenance. All the while, the database is offline as with all other popular SQL implementations, you have to take down the database and have some other option for handling queries that may continue arriving at the application.

Several years ago I wrote a research note on NS SQL for HP (that is no longer available on the HP web site, but can be provided upon request), and the fact that NS SQL was a part of the “integrated HW, SW and OS stack” simplified NS SQL in ways other implementation simply couldn’t emulate. In that research note I made the observation of how, from the server’s hardware and disk storage subsystems to the operating system itself, on up through the platforms low-level access methods and audit, logging and recovery features, at every turn the DBA faces compromises and trade-offs when it comes to tuning an SQL database.

Whether it’s simple maintenance or more complex modeling to cater for growth; trouble-shooting because of user input errors and unexpected resource locks; monitoring performance, running statistics, and updating query plans, there’s no let-up in the demand it places on DBAs. Perhaps central to what drives much of the activity of the DBA is the underlying problem that the SQL database instance is but one of many technology “layers” the DBA needs to be aware of. Even with the tools on offer today, there’s still much that simply relies on the judgment calls of skilled DBAs.

“I think ease-of-management is a valid argument,” said Sami Akbay, formerly VP of Marketing, GoldenGate Software, and now Cofounder and EVP of Striim (Nee WebAction). “Having fewer systems instead of ‘fragmented’ infrastructure is something that favors the NonStop SQL offerings!” Just as importantly and highly valued by DBAs supporting NS SQL/MX is the ability to run mixed workloads as a byproduct of this tight integration without, for instance, competing resource management schemes. “We update statistics and query plans on a monthly basis, for most objects and we do it on the fly!” Rob Lesan, formerly of AOL and now part of the vendor community, confirmed all of the above before adding “maintenance? Truly, we run reorgs, statistics, splits, column adds, etc. all without taking anything down. It’s the NonStop fundamentals!”

Of all the attributes of NS SQL that I know the NonStop community value most of all is that there’s no need to break for routine maintenance – it all can be done on the fly while the database is being accessed by NS SQL applications anywhere in the network. Ooh! And yes, again, Ahh! Try that out with Oracle or even SQL Server without resorting to complicated cluster options together with background data replication in place, all glued together with complex scripts demanding a whole lot of operator attention. Gee whiz, hope nothing breaks right now! Of course, the answer to the question of just how many DBAs do you need when not running on NonStop becomes a sore point for enterprises. 

SSDs that degrade with warnings and SQL that doesn’t have to be shut down all help reduce the maintenance load expected of NonStop systems and this is proving to be a major consideration going forward. If you want to enjoy that 100 year party you need to look very seriously at all that NonStop offers and yes, have the confidence to promote internally! No, when it really matters most, NS SQL, and the integrated stack it is part of, remains unmatched in terms of underlying technology than any competitor’s offering and for this, the community can sit back and exhale – ooh! Ahh!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

It’s all goodness; some useful and important information!

Where am I bound, it don't matter
Pocket dialing halfway 'cross the nation
What do I hear? Mindless chatter
All this useless and important information

Jimmy Buffett, "Useless but Important Information"

Pulling the company command center into our Boulder, Colorado, home for what will likely be the last time in 2015, it would be remiss of me not to mention just how useful having this RV has proved to be. Racking up more miles this year than any other, we have attended 2015 HP Discover, swung through the state of Texas with a visit to N2TUG before heading across to California and now the trip to Washington D.C. with a visit to MATUG before weekending on the outer banks of North Carolina, essentially seeing most of continental USA from out of the windscreen of our RV. Looking at a McDonalds sign above the exit to the city of Champaign seemed every bit as incongruous as it appears on first sight, but then again, what we see on the road we do need to share with friends. Yes, another case of “All this useless but important information.”

Unfortunately, for our trip to San Jose, with a visit to the NonStop Technical Boot Camp (TBC), it will be back to a vehicle we can trust to get us through potential snowfalls in the Sierras or the Rockies, as given the timeframe, there’s a likelihood we will meet winter’s arrival at some point. The Jeep SUV has proved every bit as trustworthy as our command center RV, but all the same, checking into and out of roadside hotels has become rather blasé. There’s something to be said about taking it all with you! We sure will miss the command center.

Future trips always have me pulling out the maps to ensure the route isn’t one we have travelled before - after all, for us, we both like variety! I have an ancient paper map of the continental United States and after several years of abuse, the yellow highlight is fading from many of these  routes so picking out something entirely new is becoming a challenge, and yet, the thought of doing a trip that takes us somewhere completely different always excites us. With both Margo and I born far from these shores and having missed the annual family excursions in the station wagon, it’s all still very new to both of us.

With this having been said, there is quite a lot that’s similar to what we are experiencing today with NonStop. Even the most jaded NonStop supporter will recognize how each trip with NonStop is across virgin turf and that, facing any new project the first task undertaken is to bring out the product roadmaps. After all, so much has been changing with NonStop it’s almost inevitable that the yellow highlight has faded as well. It’s been twenty years this coming January since I last worked for Tandem Computers and yet, it’s hard to fathom at times – the Tandem blood flows strongly through my veins. And product roadmaps continue to keep that blood flowing prodigiously!

I have to assume by now that every member of the NonStop community has become aware that the keynote speaker at this year’s NonStop Technical Boot Camp (TBC) will be then HPE EVP and CTO, Martin Fink. Probably the most influential technical mind inside of HPE, it’s also common knowledge that a number of years ago, Martin headed the then NonStop Enterprise Division, or NED, as it was referred to by the NonStop community. After spending many years as an ITUG volunteer I finally was elected to the ITUG Board at the end of 1999 and went on to serve as a director from 2000 to 2006 being the Chairman from 2004 to 2005.

While this may be ancient history for many in the NonStop community, by coincidence, 2004 was when Martin ascended to the top position in NonStop and I recall vividly how we both shared the stage for ITUG Europe in Berlin, 2004. I wasn’t all that sure what to expect from a HP manager, but any uneasiness was quickly put to one side as soon as Martin began talking about the benefits of NonStop and while he has taken up other posts, and his days at NonStop only a memory, Martin continues to be a supporter of the NonStop community so his agreement to be the keynote speaker at TBC didn’t come as a big surprise for many of us who are HP watchers.

At this point I have to give the game away. I am fully expecting that we will hear some pretty useful and entirely important information. It wouldn’t be anything else coming from Martin. I have always held the belief that NonStop is the unpolished gem in the greater HP product portfolio and this has been very much on my mind these past couple of days following the MATUG event outside Washington D.C. To be completely honest, my time spent this past weekend on the outer banks saw me playing the beachcomber as I searched fruitlessly, as it turned out, for the odd Spanish silver piece of eight that may have washed up on shore overnight. For the NonStop community that gem is the inclusion of NonStop as a key participant in the product roadmaps of HPE – alongside Windows and Linux, NonStop is the sole participant from a much broader product portfolio  of just a short time ago.

Expecting such useful and important information I emailed Martin for some insight and fortunately for the NonStop community he was pretty responsive to my request. “At a high-level the plan is for me to tell the story of ‘what really happened’ over the last years with Nonstop.” write Martin. “Folks see the new products and what we’ve done, but there’s the story behind the story that’s not visible to many.  I’ll tell that story.” Nothing too obscure with these remarks – we are going to hear it all. Of course, much will come down to Vice President & General Manager, Mission Critical Servers at Hewlett-Packard, Randy Meyer, but there’s little doubt in my mind given the usual Labs folks seeking the support of the field organization that Randy will be on board with Martin’s program. At any rate, given that Randy’s presentation immediately follows Martins, we should all know Randy’s position pretty quickly.

In a later exchange with Martin I was able to find out that as part of his presentation he would be providing, “a sneak peek into my CTO-level vision for future opportunities for the NonStop software and capabilities.” For some time now I have observed that the future role of NonStop may not be limited to just the box and the integrated stack that comes with it and essentially, ships as a fully operational system. No, for me, the game looks to be broadening to where its influence may be a tad bigger than anything we imagined, but I will stop with this as Martin hasn’t given any indication that this is part of the plan. So like you, I will be in the audience at TBC waiting to hear exactly what it is Martin has in plan for the bigger NonStop!

That I will not be sharing the stage with Martin or Randy doesn’t really count as useless but important information, but you catch my drift. Those days are behind all of us and yet, there is a real sense of continuity that almost every other platform I have been associated with through the decades simply hasn’t enjoyed. NonStop, some forty plus years on, is still commanding attention and that the most influential technical mind inside HP is coming to TBC is of significance of itself – want to hear a stronger message about NonStop? Well, try this on for size, we have Martin coming to fill in all the blanks in person.

I could add that there will be numerous vendor dinners, and cocktails will be readily available throughout the week. I could also add that there will be numerous presentations as well as product demonstrations – it will be a very full program. I could also add that there will be educational opportunities that many attendees will take full advantage of. But you guessed it. Anything more I could add now would only be seen as a lot of "Useless but Important Information". Yes, pack your bags, book you flights and accommodation. Martin is coming to TBC and it’s all goodness for the NonStop community!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Cup of Joe; a quick “Squiz” of the Headlines; and back to Work!

Camped outside Lincoln, Nebraska, as I head to the MATUG event outside Washington D.C., I realize that there’s much to be learnt from being on the road. Not the least being the time to be able to think of what future NonStop systems might look like and to catch up with innovative companies that may yet impact NonStop.

Much of my summer months I’ve spent on the road. With the better weather conditions for driving it’s an opportunity to mix with the NonStop community – vendors and users equally, and the insight that this provides is always valuable. It’s a very simple equation really, to write one needs to first listen and then just as importantly, read and comprehend. The basics, right! However, it still comes as a surprise when I encounter something unexpected and so it’s never about the destination, as the saying goes, but the journey. Or to put it another way, information is out there. It exists. You just have to want it. Even if you are in the middle of the road attentive as ever as you hang on to your stop sign and yes, with not a whole lot to do, you can always pull up the news on your smartphone!

If there were one thing I could revisit it would have to do with my ability to learn and then retain information on any topic via some kind of infusion process. Touch an apple and immediately I would know everything that makes an apple what it is – juicy and nutritious. Or even easier, tune in to everything, everywhere and know it all, instantly.  This has been the theme of numerous films and television series, the most recent being the upcoming series Limitless that will debut this fall in the U.S. Based on the premise of there being a brain-boosting substance, available in a pill, that enables it’s user to use 100% of their brain capacity.

My interests in part in companies developing products and solutions in fields I consider adjacent to NonStop have always been important to me. Over the last couple of years this has led me not only to be part of companies porting new platforms to NonStop, or even developing simple solutions for better hybrid NonStop to Linux / Windows integration and exploitation, but to vendors working in Clouds and Big Data areas as well as others working on HP systems a little further afield, like the new Cloudline and Moonshot. Not being a part of HP or privy to the internal roadmaps means that I spend a lot of time looking at the tealeaves and speculating about possible outcomes, so validating assumptions with vendors much closer to these roadmaps always proves valuable. But even so, there’s always surprises awaiting me when I dig a little deeper.

For some time now I have been involved in InkaBinka – not as close to the development as if I were a product manager, but close enough to be well informed about the evolving technology and the research that is behind it. Some of the patents the InkaBinka folks have filled, I have to admit,  are a little beyond my pay grade, but that’s OK too. I do get what the intent is so don’t approach me for specifics on the implementation as the knowledge of the fine details of any product I have ever been associated with hasn’t been my forte. But InkaBinka is special in that it tells me what can be done today using very modern languages, models and frameworks with the implication that all roads eventually intersect and at some point, solutions built for one platform will have applicability on any other platform, including NonStop.

Over the course of the past couple of years I have included updates on the progress being made by the team at InkaBinka and for those who may recall, there have been several major revisions to the deliverables that make up InkaBinka. The objective hasn’t changed – can I get all the news I need in 2 minutes or so and can it be readable from my mobile device of choice? In other words, provide me with an intelligent synopsis of news as it happens and allow me to then click on icons that give me more details or even video clips on the story? Every morning on awaking I grab a coffee and sit down at my iPad and the first icon I click is always InkaBinka.

However, what really has been the major story behind InkaBinka has been the maturing of the most comprehensive approach to Natural Language Processing (NLP) I have ever seen. How they stumbled onto this and were able to complete as complex an operation as this (and in the timeframe we are talking about) is beyond anything I have previously experienced – the stories summarized for me aren’t created by a team of editors somewhere but rather are the result of continuous software analysis happening in the background. But now, as interest in what the InkaBinka NLP can do, the horizon for leveraging InkaBinka is widening significantly. As Kevin McGushion, Founder and CEO of InkaBinka, tells it, “In other words, if we built a machine that could teach itself and then teach you, quickly (that’s the essence of summary and as it turns out dialog) we will have created a very powerful technology to not only draw customers and advertisers, but to influence and educate the world.”

Now Kevin isn’t prone to talking up a big story simply by waving his hands around like an old-style big tent evangelist, as he is a true rocket scientist with the paten
ts to back him up. My first introduction to Kevin was captured in the post of June 2, 2010, What’s in your garage? and little did I know all those years ago where he was headed. But as he then explains, “We have applied for our first in a new series of patents on self-learning artificial intelligence that effectively teaches itself anything in milliseconds. It’s like that scene from The Matrix when Neo learns Kung Fu in milliseconds.” Love this video clip, by the way and one of the things I really enjoy watching on the home theatre are the Matrix movies.

As the late night television advertisers constantly remind us, “But wait, we did more! We gave this machine the ability to tell you a story in its own words,” Kevin adds. “After learning a subject it gives you the condensed version in words that are more economical (takes less time) and it enhances information with other information it has learned but may have been less accessible by you. It is an interesting paradox that at a time when information is most available, the sheer volume makes it inaccessible.  We aim to solve that problem.”

Kevin said, he and Chris Brahmer, COO and Cofounder of InkaBinka have formed a dynamic duo where, as quickly as he invents Chris builds.  Chris said it is through this highly interactive exchange at speeds that would stun most people that we are able to build so much revolutionary technology so quickly.  Kevin added, “Chris literally does all of the coding himself for InkaBinka, and its NLP and he has a unique skill set which allows him thrive in an environment of invention where most developers fail.”

Without going any further, it's worth remembering that InkaBinka is available as an App that can be downloaded from your choice of App Store or equivalent. The server side is where the action all takes place and yes, it should come as no surprise to readers to hear once again, this server implementation has been developed using Server Side JavaScript together with a full stack of complementary components all packaged within the popular framework, Famo.US.
 You don’t have to go back too far through previous posts on InkaBinka to understand why I am a huge supporter of the InfraSoft folks with their deep port to NonStop of the critical engine behind JavaScript, Node.js. But today, InkaBinka runs 100% on HP Moonshot and if you were ever wondering about the type of solutions that best fit with the goals of the Moonshot project, InkaBinka happens to be among the most successful Moonshot use-case scenarios.

In a world where the big project is fading from memory and where each and every business problem is being solved with mini-apps following an incremental “build” model, InkaBinka makes a compelling case for just how sophisticated a solution can be built using this methodology. In a recent private client email I set forth the case for solutions being built in a day – even less – and, as an industry, meeting such a goal isn’t all that far away. As a meaningful demonstration of the practical aspects from going down this path, InkaBinka is a very good example but there’s a whole lot more even for the hardest of die-hard NonStop advocate. So much is about to change as plans of HP to expand product offering to enterprise customers shifts gears – Hybrids, Converged Infrastructure and Converged Systems, Cloudline and much more.

All of which is to say, what a future NonStop system might look like shouldn’t deter us from looking closely at what’s happening on these many adjacent systems as in time, and with user input, they may just become an integral part of NonStop. Who wouldn’t want a NLP capability as exists today to help up with data analytics in real time? Take NonStop out of the box, think of it as a capability or property and then challenge HP to deliver – who would have thought that before Converged Systems began being packaged we would see Windows on x86 together with a Linux on Moonshot (ARM) in the same cabinet?

Before finishing our discussions, in true NASCAR-winning style, Kevin wasn’t shy in talking about and indeed thanking, his developers. “With a team of 7 people, we have done what no one else has ever done,” says Kevin. “We will continue to build on this. And yes, I truly owe a special thanks to Chris Brahmer for personally sacrificing so much to make all of this possible.”  And to the team, my own thanks as their efforts went a long way to seal my own enthusiasm for this approach to development and the fun it has generated – and now, it’s back to reading the headlines with time aplenty to finish my cup of coffee while it’s still hot! 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Autonomous computing; tempting, but we still need input from a good design!

The story lines may take unexpected twists and turns but the enthusiasm for NonStop remains straight and true. For me, there’s much that we can discuss about NonStop but the design of NonStop? Well, with NonStop X, it’s as modern a computer as anything in the marketplace today!

For the first post of my ninth year of blogging I would be hard pressed to start with anything other than yet another metaphor derived from the auto industry. It has to do with self-driving vehicles – an abomination, from my perspective, and something that would give me pause to reconsider whether I would like to continue driving at all. No, I am not even tempted to go down this path, no matter what the signs might suggest! Even now I cause some discomfort among my friends whenever I criticize a popular vehicle solely on the basis of it providing very little driver feedback – don’t you want to be aware of the conditions of the road you have chosen to drive down? Can’t you sense the input the car is providing and doesn’t that just add to the enjoyment that comes with driving?

Readers of my posts to this NonStop community blog will also recall that the associations I draw from the world of automobiles and computers are not only frequent, but something we sometimes don’t see on first glance. Who would have thought writing about the C6 Corvette having its exhaust system improved for better performance, as was noted in the September 2, 2008, post Blood and corpses everywhere! Really? (and yes, check out the picture used) would then segue to where  I said that there’s no emerging social discontent with computing that has chip manufacturers planning some voluntarily limits to their performance. Virtualization will be part of the new landscape on NonStop.

But again, connecting the dots between exhaust manifolds and extractors to virtualization is what keeps readers thinking about what comes next and so it was that this morning I read an interesting exchange in an interview published in the September, 2015, issue of Road and Track. While this is one of the publications from which I draw inspiration it was an interview with McLaren’s design chief, Frank Stephenson, that caught my attention – and yes, at a time when the pundits are working overtime to extol what the future of computer manufacturers is with automobiles, as anyone invested in the likes of Google and Apple can attest.

When Stephenson was asked about autonomous driving and whether it has a place at McLaren, his response wasn’t unexpected. “Autonomous driving is the last thing you want from a sports car, but imagine a track day,” Stephenson responded. “The car knows the best line, the speed, the gears. It teaches you in those first few laps. You’re feeling the input from the car. After five laps, you can give it a go yourself.” Of course, this could be expected from a designer of one of the world’s finest supercars even as it renews its presence racing in Formula 1. But applying what we are watching other auto manufacturers are developing in support of autonomous driving to teaching us to be much better drivers, now that’s something I can work with.

When it comes to IT and data centers much of what I have been writing about of late has to do with the evolutionary steps being taken by companies building monitoring solutions. As the designers of today’s computers pull together mostly industry standard components and subassemblies, there’s little to differentiate one system from another and yet, as we move a little further up the stack and away from the bare metal, industry standard together with open software allow the computer designers a lot of free play when it comes to exploiting the benefits provided by the common architectures. At a time when some industry analysts still question the need for NonStop as they overlook just how modern NonStop has become, up and down these hardware and software stacks, things just fail.

However, as we look out further in to the future at what computer designers are considering building there’s a couple of items that stand out and that, in many ways, play into the hands of NonStop. As previously covered, we are definitely headed towards a software-designed-everything and I have to admit, I am pleased to see the industry headed down this path. But software-designed-everything will lead us to a level of virtualization that many within the NonStop community continue to scratch their heads about – won’t that simply compromise the capacity for NonStop to provide fault tolerance at the highest level?

On the other hand, software-designed-everything coupled with virtualization takes us into the world of self-learning and indeed, eventually, self-healing. Autonomous computing is at hand and for many CIOs, this has become the Holy Grail – whereto the high priced / highly valued systems managers, we will then be asking of ourselves? In times when so many of us are taking a step back from the industry, surely there has to be a demand for our skills as we teach tomorrow’s systems how to learn and heal? Unfortunately, this may not be the case as we head towards a world where a few clever people will lay down the foundations for all systems.

In my discussions with those inside of HP working with software-defined-everything (and no, there’s no product yet so don’t call your HP sales folks just yet), fully virtualized and with the ability to provision for any occasion, what we will see at first is something pretty basic and most likely template based. Given this industry and running this solution, here’s some basic rules to determine when to run an application, where to locate it and give it access to the resources it needs and yes, what to do when something goes wrong. But again, companies building monitoring solutions have already began taking steps along the path to predictability, learning and self-healing. And for good reason – future systems will require a higher level of intelligence to step in at the appropriate time and drive the healing. Completely autonomously and without any operator intervention!

Well, this may fly with some folks in Armonk and along Redwood Shores but for me, even where the computer knows the best time to run an application, the resources the application will require and the steps to take to recover any failed or compromised processes, I would prefer that this was all done initially in kind of a tutorial manner so that after a short period of time, it teaches us rather than dismisses us. Autonomous computer systems will be fine but at some point, it’s still the responsibility of businesses everywhere to know at any point in time what is transpiring on their systems. For NonStop then, this opens the door not only to house the intelligence overarching all that is happening but be the control box for our steering wheel that provides us with the input we need to traverse an increasingly hostile global everything-connected world.

Yes, there is still cause to celebrate good design and as much as the rest of the computer world embraces standards and builds cookie-cutter systems differentiated only on price and perhaps services, NonStop continues to provide value and in a way that is headed in the right direction. NonStop buried within a hypervisor? Why not! NonStop provisioning according to the “availability needs” template / profile? Again, of course! And yes, NonStop as the control box – even as one vendor has begun calling the latest NonStop family, the NonStop X systems, the X Box – allowing us to learn to observe and to step in with all the input needed to steer any desired course.

From the same issue of the same magazine comes the back page article, Driven by Design. Former Vice Chairman of GM and before that, Executive VP at Ford, with just a brief stint at Chrysler long enough, mind you, to bring the Dodge Viper to market. “There aren’t any bad cars anymore. They just don’t exist,” writes Lutz. “The days of seeing a comparison test of four cars where one is the obvious loser are gone, replace by a new age of automotive equality. Reliability, braking, steering, handling, ride, and refinement are all largely on par across automakers and segments. That leaves just one chief differentiator: design.”

Monitoring solutions are only going to get more important over time. But perhaps the attribute that gives these monitoring solutions the option to see it all is that they are running on the box that’s always there, X Box or not. For this to continue, the onus falls on the bevy of designers looking after NonStop systems today and to everyone in the NonStop community, what they do still cannot be replicated – and with that, autonomous computing or otherwise, we truly do have assurances that NonStop has a definitive role to play and I for one, look forward to seeing this role for NonStop eventuate as the designers work to bring us all software-defined-everything!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Another anniversary … and NonStop still holds center stage!

Anniversaries are always important and there’s always consequences should we fail to remember them. When it comes to blogging there’s no similar downside but all the same, from a bloggers perspective, there’s a genuine mix of surprise along with the thought of only having just begun – so yes, thanks for all you support!

Last year I was a couple of days late in posting the anniversary post and opened with an apology that kicked off with me reminding myself not to forget writing the post; after all, remembering anniversaries remains an important consideration in all we do. But I do forget key dates and for many years now, following an incident I will not get into in any detail, the number of our car that we have driven on road courses for many years is 161 – yes, a reminder of the 16th of January, my wedding anniversary. With the completion of this post, I will commence my 9th year of blogging having first posted on August 20, 2007. As for the cars now in the garage, Pyalla 1 and Pyalla 2, think of them as being Primary and Back-Up!

Numbers of posts don’t really tell the complete story nor does it reflect the many changes I have seen across the community. In the fall of 2007, shortly after I started blogging, the NonStop community was gathered in Brighton, just to the south of London, for the European ITUG event. It was memorable simply because participants came up to me and said that they had started reading my posts and this was all the motivation I needed at the time. Now, supporting numerous industry and vendor blogs, I have really warmed to the task of writing incessantly about all things NonStop and in so doing have watched many others do likewise. At a time when so many in the NonStop community express concern that NonStop is overlooked by the mainstream press, the cumulative work of the NonStop folks delivering content to social media channels fills a very important niche.

Soon I will be pulling out of the driveway yet again for a week’s sojourn on the west coast, visiting both southern and northern California. Brief meetings of investors will occupy our time in SoCal whereas vendor meetings will hold center stage in NoCal. The weekend will be an entirely different matter as we spend time at Sonoma for the final track event of the Indy Racing League (IRL) where our good friends’, Brian and Jan Kenny, together with their son-in-law, Bryan Herta (who owns an IRL team Bryan Herta Autosport ), who will be contesting this final event of the year. Talk about anniversaries. Yes, it was the Bryan Herta Autosport team that won the 100th Anniversary running of the Indy 500 race in 2011 and where the winnings and publicity spurred him on to build a team to run fulltime – the weekend at Indy for that Indy 500 event he won just happened to be a one-off for the team. Success can lead to some surprising outcomes so our trek to Sonoma is bound to be a weekend full of surprises.

My attention this month has been on the topic of modern. The upcoming Sep / Oct, 2015, issue of the community magazine, The Connection, has modernization as its theme, but rather than writing another article on the act of modernization my thoughts this time have been on what exactly is modern? Does something today considered to be modern have clearly identifiable attributes? A modern house, a modern car, a modern television – what does it mean to be modern? Is something considered by one community as being cool be immediately agreed-upon by society as being modern? Do we all share a single appreciation for what’s modern and does this understanding cross over to computer systems?

On the LinkedIn group, Mainframe Experts Network, an interesting discussion developed when a member posted the headlines, 71% of all Fortune 500 companies have their core business on the mainframe. Forget for the moment that this is posted to an IBM mainframe centric group and read on. “The mainframe is a hugely viable business asset. The alternative is not necessarily better, or cheaper. Mainframe's have a marketing problem, not a quality, function or reliability problem. Why? because perception is, it is more expensive and every IT hardware, software and services company or alternative, is aggressively creating FUD because they all have something to gain if they can persuade prospects to move off what had been labelled as ‘legacy’”.

Forget too for the moment that the IBM crowd is complaining about others using FUD on them – Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. FUD has been the stock-in-trade response of IBM for decades to any counter-proposal to using the mainframe. But the observation that perception that (the mainframe) is more expensive and that businesses can gain from moving to another platform resonates with everyone belonging to the NonStop community. Then again, this could be expected as after the IBM mainframe, the NonStop is now the second oldest architecture managing to out-survive highly popular systems from the likes of Prime, Wang, Data General, Four Phase and the like. And as a community we fully understand that the alternative to NonStop doesn’t always end up being better or even cheaper.

However, here’s the kicker. Whereas IBM moved on from proprietary chips and fabrics / backplanes to its own proprietary Risc chips, NonStop elected to head in a different direction as it kept evolving to where today, no piece of its hardware is proprietary. While both systems today support languages, tools and frameworks that make programming applications no more difficult to do than on any other platform, be it Wintel or something else, NonStop continues to deliver an integrated stack in support of openness – something IBM hasn’t quiet managed to do after all these years. I know I will get push-back on this observation but with IBM there’s options and with options comes complexity and complex systems are inherently less robust and tend to fail more often.

As for NonStop, how many of us have forgotten just how much Pathway does for us – in terms of being a framework in support of our applications as well as a working model on how to build other middleware and frameworks with the same characteristics? While it’s still the realm of development shops to do the heavy lifting needed to support fault tolerance, the ability to develop persistent applications on top of these fault tolerant core management and monitoring components has become easy to do. But this is exactly what a modern system needs to possess today – an integrated stack from metal to data that lets developers focus on logic.

Where the commentary on this LinkedIn group heads is familiar territory. Training of the younger generation of IT professionals. “It is always a challenge to convince the younger management group to believe in IBM, and especially so when they ask the question, ‘who can we hire once you retire,’” was one observation that generated further comments. And for many in the NonStop community, this is also true. That is one reason I continue to blog as I do – I may not have the answers but I sure do know who to contact and where to direct questions. NonStop systems are modern systems by any standard of measure and HP has invested considerable funds into NonStop, making sure it is industry standard and open – equipping the next generation of IT professionals to be capable of fully exploiting its capabilities. It all comes down to setting expectations. NonStop is not a general purpose computer, but rather, it’s a transaction processing system capable of processing transactions in real time.

However, modern systems aren’t all we need to communicate as the NonStop community is aware that today we live with modern perceptions along with modern expectations. By this I mean that the model of “good enough” being fine, and yes, “No Service” being a temporary nuisance, shouldn’t apply to the systems at the heart of our business solutions. Having interviewed as many IT professionals as I have over the past eight years it still comes as a surprise to realize that what the NonStop community values so highly is of only passing interest – oh really? The system never fails? NonStop systems must be expensive and complex and very hard to program! All of which is to say, my uneducated IT professionals would likely pushback on having to work on such a system even if it is as modern as we know it is.

NonStop is not a general purpose computer and as such it will never capture the share of Global 1000 corporations many other systems claim in their marketing promotions. But again, that’s not the point – we are talking transaction processing. So the numbers HP is now throwing up on the big screen during presentations about the ongoing success of NonStop in markets like finance, Telco, retail, manufacturing and transportation are impressive. In particular the potential for growth in the mobile phone network markets, looks impressive and is one market segment I suspect few have been aware of the presence of NonStop before seeing HP’s presentations. The signs are all there – just talk to any member of the NonStop vendor community about sales figures this year – in all likelihood, the business of NonStop turned a corner earlier this year. Chalk that up to yet one more modern perception that is in dead wrong – NonStop is shifting into a growth phase and that may be the most surprising observation of mine over the course of eight years of blogging.

Numbers of posts don’t tell the story, but all the same, they do highlight the many channels through which the message of NonStop travels. From association blogs (e.g. ATMmarketplace and more recently, BAI), to vendor blogs (IR, comForte, DataExpress, WebAction, etc.) to NonStop community blogs like this one, Real Time View, there have been more than 1000 posts with readership anywhere from 350,000 to 500,000 plus over the past eight years. I often blog about the difference individuals can make and while I remain bullish on this front, I also think persistence counts for something. As does growth - have you noticed, too, just how many orders have been placed for the NonStop X? If you missed it, look for another post on this topic shortly. And so, for the immediate future I will persist – expect many more posts to follow, naturally! Thank you all for your support these past eight years as you too have all played a big part in making a difference, too.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Modernization versus Modern – is there a difference?

Working on an upcoming feature for the Sep / Oct, 2015, issue of the NonStop community magazine, The Connection gave me the opportunity to differentiate between modernization and modern even as it gave me an opportunity to look at the subject a little differently in this post …

As much as I continue to enjoy living in America now that I have U.S. citizenship, after twenty plus years of residency, it’s hard for me to ignore what’s happening in my country of birth. I still tape the Rugby League matches that make it up here – well, DVR rather than tape, I should say – and of course, who can ignore last weekend’s monumental Rugby performance as the Wallabies beat the All Blacks from New Zealand for the first time in goodness knows when. However, the games keep evolving and the rules change constantly, so much so that the modern game of Rugby – League and Union – has elements I simply don’t recognize from the time I committed so many days to playing both codes.

In previous posts I have written about the changes to the America’s Cup yachting event and as a former competitive sailor, who actually made it to Newport, Rhode Island, to watch the 1977 series where Captain Outrageous, Ted Turner, skippered Courageous to a dominant win over the Aussies aboard Australia (4 to 0) I barely recognize these strange multihull yacht mutations that compete today. Then again, coming too from IT, where change is ever present, I should be the last one to complain over the demise of older – dare I say, more beautiful - classic yachts of the past. Sailing, rugby, even the stately game of cricket (and no, I won’t mention The Ashes) have all seen changes to bring them into the 21st century.

Stopping by Starbucks in the Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, CA, we ran across wireless charging for the first time, pictured above, and it became a talking point. See the Starbucks News on this topic posted in November 2014. Oh yes, this is something that’s very modern! But modernization and modern are really two different attributes, particularly when it comes to IT.

Unfortunately, whenever we bring up a topic of modernization there’s an assumption that we are talking about legacy systems – we wouldn’t be covering modernization if the subject wasn’t old. And truth be told, I may be getting on in years, but my interests remain very much focused on what’s current and what’s topical with few occasions that call for me to wax lyrical on systems of the past. When I think of the cost of systems of decades ago and the capabilities they offered I am still shocked that as an industry, we were able to serve business as effectively, and indeed as efficiently, as we did.

Networking, industry standards and open systems along with Moore’s Law running rampant has seen the world change and for more than four decades NonStop has moved right along with it. The latest NonStop family to be introduced to businesses everywhere, the NonStop X, is arguably as modern as any other system on offer today, particularly when it comes to requiring a cluster for scale-out even as the internal processing power can be easily scaled up via software. As we have all come to appreciate, the move to support the Intel X86 architecture, together with industry-standard InfiniBand (IB), it opens the door to many new possibilities, given so many businesses along with government agencies have been predisposed to Intel for quite some time.

However, none of this comes as news to the NonStop community – we have seen how NonStop has demonstrated flexibility through the years embracing numerous changes of chip sets, interconnect fabrics, storage and network connectivity. Not always a sure fire winner (remember the big push behind Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) for all communications connections?) but always moving forward and remaining relevant, such that today NonStop is a modern system. It may not be recognizable to those familiar with NonStop systems of the past. Compared to a large VLX or Cyclone system you may be forgiven for simply walking past a modern NonStop system having ignored its presence as you think it’s just another network cabinet.

In the upcoming September – October, 2015, issue of The Connection magazine the theme of the issue is Modernization. I am fully anticipating the usual suspects to provide articles and commentaries with numerous references to the use of Java and to SQL and of the benefits that come with leveraging Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) along with Web services. There will be coverage too of different options for supporting smartphones and tablets even as new protocols and services are supported. With NonStop anchoring solutions in industries that move slowly and are cautious about embracing anything modern at all, having access to so many different programming models is a major benefit for business held captive to such solution longevity.

However, in the article I have submitted, I have elected to focus on Modern – a celebration if you like of what we now have available to us with the arrival of the most modern of NonStop systems of all time, the NonStop X. Perhaps the observation I liked most came from Infrasoft Pty. Limited Managing Director, Peter Shell. When it comes to being modern, said Shell, “The technology you chose has to support where you want to go even if you don’t know precisely where that will be at the time you acquire the systems, middleware and solutions. That means a level of flexibility and indeed compatibility with languages, tools and frameworks common across the broadest pool of developers that will be likely candidates to develop these new solutions.”

I also like the observation by IR COO, Alex Baburin, who said that when stating a system is modern, “It is really the perspective of the customer and their judgment is usually based on their needs. If our product were to meet the operational and interoperability needs of these CIOs corporate architecture, then our system would typically be deemed ‘modern’”. In essence, a modern system today has to meet our needs today and yet be flexible enough to be easily reconfigured to meet the demands of the future even as we appreciate that being modern is very much in the eye of the beholder, so as to speak.

There’s still one very important attribute of a modern system and that’s its price and the most important aspect of price is that initial price tag when the system, with the software stack needed to run a solution, passes through the door and enters the data center. “Perhaps overlooked in any discussion about today’s modern systems is the price. Many companies have become a little jaded over discussions about the TCO as increasingly, every vendor puts their own spin as to what to include in the calculations,” responded OmniPayments, Inc. CEO, Yash Kapadia. “For me, then yes, it’s all about the TCA as this is the bottom line amount and truly influences the decision to purchase. Before turning to the calculator to see if the TCO is beneficial for any Financial Institution (FI), CIOs first must justify that initial purchase.”

The upcoming article in the September – October, 2015, issue of The Connection magazine includes numerous other observations and I will leave it to you to check them out when the magazine is delivered. The difference between modernization and modern is very real – we all know full well that we can run an older, legacy, solution on a very modern system but the reverse isn’t quite that simple. Running a modern solution on a legacy system is fraught with potential incompatibilities where vendors prove quick to distance themselves from what is being deployed. While I am not a fan of rolling updates and changes we have come to expect from many of the programs that make up the open source movement, on the other hand, doing absolutely nothing for a decade isn’t any better. In time, working with a modern system fails both the price test as well as the ability to access a large pool of qualified personnel.

Coming this far and not seeing a car metaphor may be a shock for some members of the NonStop community but any discussion about modern systems, the emergence of hybrids utilizing clouds public and private, has to mirror what’s happening in the auto industry but that’s a subject for another post. However, the recent exposure of modern cars to computer hackers is proving to be a wake-up call and it’s a circumstance that led me to write a separate post on the subject for the comForte Lounge blog – watch for the publication of the post, The system is safe – where did you hear that? On the Internet!

The modern car, just like the modern computer, is comprised of industry standard sub-assemblies and components and the ability to choose transmissions from ZF, brakes from Brembo, tires from Goodyear resembles the options we all recognize as paramount for any computer to be considered modern and even as I have referenced a number of them in this post, it’s still worth considering how far we have come in the past four decades and not to shy away from those detractors who may not be as well-informed as us; relax, breathe easy, NonStop is modern and I didn’t need to check the internet to draw that conclusion!  

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Redundancy! How many NonStop systems needed to bring merriment?

HP NonStop systems have embrace industry standards and yet, for many their fault tolerant properties don’t eliminate the need for redundant systems – a lesson learnt from years of experience as nothing can eliminate disasters and just plain bad luck!

In client newsletters and in posts to other blogs I have bemoaned the fact that even with additional cars in the garage there can be times when you simply don’t have a car to drive. Such was the case in July when even the company command center, the ever reliable RV, was checked in for a routine service. In the same week, the Corvette was diagnosed with having no brakes and had to wait for new pads and rotors, even as punctures took out both of the remaining cars. Yes, the “Trackhawk” Jeep SRT8 pictured above (with ultra-low-profile tires, sometimes a leak can be hard to detect but trust me, it was flat), as well as our Grand Tourer where a front tire simply rolled right off the rim were both victims to flat tires - "when it rains, it pours" as good friend Robert Rosen told me! Tires needed to be shipped in and in both cases their unusual sizes and construction demands meant a week of waiting.

The Holen – Buckle family was reduced to asking immediate family for help and they graciously responded. Much of this was covered in the post to our social blog of August 1, 2015, With places to go and plans in place, the wheels fell off … where you can read more about this predicament. This wasn’t the only instance where the issue of redundancy came up. Among the NonStop vendor community there are those vendors with the sizable inventory of NonStop systems. In some cases, there are systems (vital to these vendors’ customer support programs) that date back to the NonStop Himalaya K-Series systems. However, as with any business model, due consideration continues to be given to just how many systems need supporting and at how many locations?

For the NonStop community the absolute minimum of everything is two, but in recent times, when it comes to systems and indeed locations, this number has steadily risen to where three or more sites with many more systems is not uncommon. Indeed, even as the NonStop community acknowledges a consolidation among the NonStop user base following many years of aggressive M&A activity two sites, each fully replicated (with at least four sites), is not only not rare, it’s more common than we may think. The rise in popularity of Disaster / Recovery solutions in the last decade and the number of product offerings to choose from has certainly contributed to the increase in system numbers and sites.

It is well known throughout the NonStop community that the German luxury auto manufacturer has a pair of NonStop systems deployed at every manufacturing site on the planet and that this duplication of systems has been a cornerstone of the services their IT group provides the company. It’s clear that, even in the highly connected world we live in today, redundancy on this scale is appropriate. An extremely large configuration buried deep underground may be the image depicted in movies but should the site fail for any reason, there’s always the back-up somewhere, but even here, relying on just a single back-up, makes today’s CIOs extremely nervous.

Distribute pairs “everywhere” and make sure there’s distance between each pair with separate power and communications infrastructure may still see one location going offline. Disasters, whether natural or man-made, continue to occur with regular monotony.  However, when your business relies on dozens of locations, such granularity provided through redundancy keeps critical production lines operating. Furthermore, when consideration is given to what is a modern system and perhaps even more importantly, what is a modern data center, then redundancy is a major check list item CIOs would be inclined to check off with a big positive tick!

In a recent interview with IT Director of comForte, Patrick Eyrich, he talked how the sustained organic growth based on the partnership with HP, together with the latest inorganic growth following M&A activity, has made it very important for comForte to treat their systems as a whole, rather than as just a collection of isolated servers. Keeping operational this “whole”, even when individual systems and components may be offline, without affecting the support comForte provides, is a critical concern of their senior management. For more on this interview, check the recent post to the comForte blog, Following the sun ...

In an upcoming post to the comForte blog, Eyrich talks about having, “a pair of NonStop systems in Neuruppin, Germany, and a further pair in Berwyn, U.S, together with yet another pair of NonStop systems in Sydney, Australia.” Eyrich then adds that this is going to grow even bigger as “we have a new entry-level NonStop X system on order for delivery this year and in total, this will allow us to support NonStop OS versions from G, H, J and now L.” Redundancy is just that important and while it may add to the overall operational complexity, the upside certainly makes it worthwhile.

With the new NonStop X system on order, did comForte really need three NonStop Himalaya S-Series systems? “We were considering retiring one of our NonStop S-Series systems but then again, what would happen should our primary data center in Neuruppin totally fail due to some catastrophe? Disaster – Recovery (DR) is just as important as security,” acknowledged Eyrich. “Knowing that we have replicated NonStop systems running elsewhere at two locations outside of Germany, as we have with our data centers in Sydney and Berwyn, greatly reduces the fears of senior management, so yes, we will keep these three S-Series systems for some time to come.”

The systems included may span several generations but the issue of redundancy has more modern overtones than we may first think. In former times, buried deep in the back office, was the mainframe. For nearly two decades I sold software into the mainframe environment and very few sites had anything other than that single mainframe. Walking into an installation with two mainframes was a rarity and yet, for the majority of corporations, relying on tape back-ups was the sole recourse should disaster strike. But today, while we cover a lot of territory when it comes to availability, underpinning recovery is a fabric of redundancy my former colleagues could only have dreamed about – adding 32K of real memory to a pair of IBM 360/30 mainframes in 1970 represented an investment of $750K each!

No solutions or service provider would think of going into business today without redundancy especially when they are supporting mission critical applications. In a brief exchange with OmniPayments CEO, Yash Kapadia, he told me how “Redundancy anchors the manner in which we build out or data centers for development as well as support for those customers we support directly using our own systems.” While it’s received considerable publicity of late in blog posts and articles, Yash is pushing into cloud computing utilizing NonStop systems and in so doing, “we simply have to have more than one NonStop system to execute and with the introduction of the entry level NonStop X systems, we can progress by taking small, baby steps.”

As for being a recognizable attribute of a modern system, Yash also noted that for OmniPayments, “presenting an image to prospects of having modern systems at the core of our operations mandates we have redundancies almost everywhere we turn and being able to accommodate the addition of new customers, the introduction of new products and features, all while changing the operating system and the full stack that goes with it, simply isn’t possible without redundant systems and is clearly a highly visible hallmark of what a modern system today looks like.”

In the July, 2015, issue of the eNewsletter, Tandemworld, Yash wrote of how, “OmniPayments easily expands to provide additional functionality when needed and supplies complete security functions for every financial transaction handled. It will survive any single fault, requires no downtime for maintenance or upgrades, and supports a range of disaster recovery solutions”. And yes, OmniPayments is “now available on NonStop X”.

Before leaving the topic of redundancy, within HP there are some interesting projects – CloudLine to provide bare-bones, no-label Intel servers to those very large operations that buy servers by the thousands and don’t need any of the vendor support infrastructure most enterprises depend upon. Get out of my way; think Google, Amazon, Facebook, Yahoo! There’s a redundancy present on a scale unimaginable with many servers down (to be thrown away) at any given time.

Then there’s the Converged Data Center Infrastructure that looks to separate processing, storage and networking resources as it throws in layers of virtualization to suit rapid reconfiguration as it provisions resources to meet the needs of the day. In both situations, the redundancy involved suggests that at some point someone inside HP will have the bright idea to completely overhaul what we see today in NonStop and bury it deep beneath the OSs to produce a far more competitive solution – yes, NonStop lives but someday soon we may no longer recognize it!

Taking a car to the shop for repair can see a car lay idle for a day or so and for many of us, while it might be a nuisance; it’s not a circumstance that would see us rushing out to buy a second car. Just in case! For those of us in family situations that necessitate two cars, seeing them both sidelined can prove extremely inconvenient and isn’t something we would expect to see happen. And yet it does happen! When it comes to our systems, as every NonStop user can attest, redundancy simply is the way we think and without it, the availability story loses considerable credibility. How many systems do we truly need? As my father would state as the family gathered – the more the merrier! 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Proof of the pudding? Without transactions our society wouldn’t work!

The themes of meetings and events, as well as the commentaries and posts that followed, share a common theme – transactions and yes, our willingness to believe in transactions only when we have seen the contributions they make for us; HP NonStop systems are changing perceptions and remains at the forefront of processing the transactions that keep society functioning …

All around us here, in Boulder, Colorado, the harvesting of the wheat crop has begun and there’s no missing the sightings of the harvesters going about their business – the numerous clouds of dust produced by the headers is unmistakable. While the wheat flows into waiting trucks the chaff flies freely in the air and it may be very modern looking, but it’s still rooted in traditions that are millennia old. The harvests now under way are of the winter varieties and if the weather holds, there will be an additional plantings shortly, although not being a farmer I’m not sure how all of that happens but I am only too happy to eat the finished products as they hit the supermarket shelves. 

In today’s world it’s not always easy to track trends as they happen. Avoiding the IT “noise” can be difficult at times and sorting the wheat from the chaff a daunting task. However, never before have we had as many sources of information as exists today and turning to our favorite channel can prove beneficial. We may not always be able to make it to the local user group gathering to hear the latest from HP but as is often the case, what has been presented is quickly posted to a forum or blog and for many in the NonStop community, this is the only way to stay current with all that’s coming from HP.

After participating in a couple of conferences – big tent marketing affairs attracting thousands to the regional user group meetings attracting a hundred or so – I have just come away from attending a vendor sales kick-off event. This is something I like to attend as checking the pulse of the user community provides just one side of the story whereas the vendor community often tells a completely different story and in so doing, helps fill in the blanks. It may please many in the NonStop community to know that indeed, it’s not just HP that’s investing in NonStop but there are considerable investments being made in NonStop by numerous vendors and for them, the need to turn ideas into products is even more a necessity as there’s little wiggle-room these days to recover from product wrong-turns or misjudged timeframes.

What I have been observing has already made it into a number of posts and commentaries. One of the more frequently used expressions this past month has been, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” Originating in an exchange with DataExpress President, Michelle Marost, the phrase first turned up in an article by DataExpress in the July 2015 issue of Tandemworld under the heading, To gain a big audience, NonStop goes small! The context was the belief, common now to many vendors, that in coming up with an entry-level NonStop X system (for American users, likely to be priced below US$100K) more customers will chose NonStop and already, the order books are starting to fill up, but we still have to wait and see how this develops for HP and what new marketplaces may develop.

However, this phrase also appeared in the most recent post to the DataExpress News Blog, the post of July 22, 2015, Testimonials by our NonStop customers prove most credible! “‘The proof of the pudding is in the eating’ is particularly pertinent this month,” the post states, “for DataExpress this is the ultimate test of just how well our product delivers on customers and prospects expectations. This is very important for a company of our size as all we have is our reputation.” So, not just the future of HP NonStop depends upon the sales an entry-level NonStop X attracts, but also for DataExpress;  once purchased and brought online, the customers’ testimonials become just so important for all involved.

The phrase also show up in the previous post to this blog, that of July 18, 2015, Vibrant Composition and the context here has to do with the acceptance not just of NonStop X or a particular vendor’s product but the potential to have NonStop as one part of a hybrid systems. The expectation that NonStop will be paired with a Windows or Linux blade(s) as part of a cluster with InfiniBand providing the interconnect fabric. There will be some markets reluctance to embrace either a Windows or Linux blade inside the system chassis – and yes, finance and banking comes to mind – yet there will be other markets sure to embrace the concept. Telcos, where not every call is a 911 distress call and manufacturing, where not everything involves a robot operating 24 X 7. The popular “look to book” model fits nicely into this hybrid model being unveiled by HP for NonStop.

Proof of the pudding is in the eating and sorting the wheat from the chaff, both have to do with determining value. Whether this is by taste or by letting the wind blow away what is worthless, the result is obtaining that which is prized, whether it is a quality or even ability. For the NonStop community, dependence on NonStop systems to run mission critical solutions has always been highly valued but for the majority of the IT industry, the lessening of expectations has become acceptable. And yet, the climate of tolerance seems to be shifting – as Bob Kossler, Director, Technology, Strategy and Planning for Mission Critical Servers (MCS) at HP, observed, “There was a time when picking up a telephone handset gave us a dial-tone immediately, today we have embraced the smartphone even though we know network access may vary depending on our location; they are a mediocre device at best compared to telephones of the past and yet, we accept the loss of reliability.”

Take stock exchanges for instance where there had been very strict SLAs in place, but today if trades – mostly automated program trading, where orders are placed but are cancelled before execution – cannot be pursued on one exchange because of an outage, are executed on another exchange. No real penalty is incurred due to such an outage and yet, where the SLAs remain, those exchanges continue to depend upon NonStop. Reliability still has its upside even where conditions appear to be favoring speed over such reliability. The point here is not so much whether or not NonStop makes a bold return to stock exchanges globally (which I have reservations about) but rather, in those situations where the dial-tone reliability needed for processing todays transactions without disruption is still prized and considered by all involved as being valuable.

Today’s reality is that NonStop remains the premier system for processing transactions where the highest levels of availability remain an important business differentiator. IDC continues to rank NonStop as Availability Level 4 (AL4), a category reserved for those systems where the “switch to alternate resources is not perceptible to end users”.  In this case, the proof of the pudding is very much on display across the world’s largest financial institutions, retailers, Telcos and manufacturers, including automobile manufacturers.  This too was the theme of a recent presentation given by IR CEO, Darc Rasmussen, where he reiterated how transactions are at the very core of every business pursuit.

“The voice of the customer is the most important influence (and what we provide) only matters if it makes a difference for our customers! Without customers, you have no business,” said Rasmussen. “Business is engaged in transactions and without transactions our society wouldn’t work!” And while the event where Rasmussen was presenting was a closed affair, the success of this past year for IR is confirmation that Prognosis is making a difference for their customers. How big a contribution? How about record sales in NonStop market? Check. Record sales across the board? Check. Record revenues, stock price and market capitalization? Check. Retaining a sizable presence in the NonStop marketplace continues to pay dividends, even for a vendor who has served the NonStop community for as many years as IR did.

For more on what was said at this IR event check out the post of July 29, 2015, to the IR Payments and Infrastructure blog, More NonStop transactions? More for Prognosis to monitor! It’s not always easy to predict future trends or to second guess where markets may be headed, but when it comes to transactions there can only be more of them involving even more sources and for that, NonStop remains the premier offering. Despite the inroads made by commodity cluster servers and the many redundancies that are built into the clusters, throwing more hardware at the problem of availability only makes the solution more fragile – more parts doesn’t equal greater robustness. AL4, according to IDC, only comes when the ability to switch to alternate resources is not perceptible to end users, and this is an integral part of the design of the server.

Proof of the pudding is in the eating may be a well-known saying but it cuts to what is important for everyone in the NonStop community. Out of the box and fresh off the truck, a NonStop system provides a level of availability unmatched by any other vendor. We are now seeing, with the narrowing of price differentials a NonStop system, complete with a fully working software stack, from the OS to the database, being less expensive than commodity servers clustered and loaded with a selection of similar software products.  It may take a little longer before CIOs get their heads around this basic fact, but when they do the transactions that keep society working, 24 X 7 X 365, will end up running in part or in whole on the NonStop systems of today. And you will most likely first hear of this on a forum or blog …  

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Vibrant Composition

It was as if the music played - it was vibrant indeed, and thinking of the composability along with Converged Infrastructure (CI), as Martin Fink described the concept at the June 2015 HP Discover in Las Vegas, I could not pass this guitar without having a picture taken. Vibrancy? HP? Perfect illustration! We travelled to Dallas, Texas, for the N2TUG, detoured through Austin, Texas, where the Vibrancy (pictured above) was on display, then it was off to Las Vegas, Nevada, followed by Southern California. Now as I write this post we're in Palo Alto, California, for a couple of days.

Hearing a little more from Sean Mansubi about CI and more specifically, about Converged Data Center Infrastructure (CDCI), I was thinking how similar CDCI – at least in concept - is to the NonStop we all know. With its ability to add or remove resources, be these the processors, storage, or networks, visibility to the system in part or in whole by any application is a given. Having the ability to provision it for whatever new requirements arise – absolutely, it’s being able to compose your system. Yeah, just like a NonStop, right? There’s no Pathway as best as I can tell, but even here, I am intrigued now by the potential of OneView.

With OneView it is beginning to look pretty exciting and so is the concept of the “virtual” NonStop.  CDCI, at its core, supports the externalization of all resources and via One View has the ability to change everything to better accommodate the needs of the moment

Many current members of the NonStop community may have forgotten Black Monday, October 19, 1987, when the volume of trades overwhelmed SIAC and yet, with NonStop in the data center and running the trading application, it was just a case of adding more processors and disks on the fly - and the NonStop OS embraced them transparently. If it wasn’t for the ticker tape not being able to keep up, NonStop would have just kept on processing. Looking at this new composition model that’s central to CDCI shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone familiar with NonStop.    

I couldn’t help discussing where HP is headed following our discussions with Sean, and Richard and I had a thought. The requirement, or question, was how could we hasten the deliverable of having NonStop, via IB, participate, adjacent to the CDCI systems. The value-add we came up with had to do with a very key NonStop subsystem; wouldn’t it be nice to be able to wrap the arms of Pathway around processes on the CDCI systems and give them the same degree of persistence as you would expect to have from running them on NonStop?

With maRunga being re-messaged around hybrid and hopefully set up in the ATC – could a demo running a NonStop / IB / CDCI be arranged at some point, and perhaps even before December’s HP Discover? We can’t see why not!  I keep coming back to maRunga as I don’t think we have fully exhausted all that it can do when it comes to heterogeneous system deployments. And I don’t want to sound like a broken record but fundamentally, when I think of clusters and where there’s more than one platform involved, extending NonStop attributes to include these other platforms just seems to make sense.

The proof in the pudding is in the eating of course, so first we need to get the hybrid system set up at ATC and put our paws on the IB APIs as they will become available (we would not go for the raw verbs, of course), then look over at the CDCI systems should they be available.  But here’s the bigger question – will NonStop always look the way it does today? Could there even be more than one NonStop solution? Just as important for many within the NonStop community, might NonStop be given a new name, from Tandem to NonStop to something else certainly can be in the cards and new branding just might do the trick of generating interest among the industry analyst community. Goodness knows, we need to get them engaged anyway we can.