Tuesday, September 16, 2014

For NonStop users, moving data isn’t distracting!

Moving files comprised of punched cards or indeed, magnetic tape, was so 20th century and yet, when it comes to even the most advanced transaction processing systems, files still need to be moved and often this is the specialty of a select few boutique businesses.  


Out on America’s interstate highways you see transportation evolving on an almost continuous basis. With the regular trips we make to the west coast, whether it is to HP in Palo Alto or my other clients in the greater Los Angeles area, we have seen extended sleeper compartments behind the cabs of big rigs simply getting bigger and we have seen much greater use of aerodynamics on nearly every truck we pass. However, on these trips we have also seen the venerable dump, or tip, truck lose ground to massive side dump trucks – often hauled in tandem behind a single tractor or prime mover. With highway maintenance resulting in huge tracts of roadway being torn up, it’s no surprise to see these monsters at work. 

Forced to stop and stand idle on the side of the highway as they go about their work, it’s nothing more than an untimely distraction and one we dread facing each trip out west. The key advantages of the side dump, however, is that it allows rapid unloading and they are almost immune to being upset (tipping over) while dumping, unlike the traditional end dump trucks. More obvious, even to the untrained eye, is that they can simply transport a bigger load than the old-style, end dump vehicles. Furthermore, when they do transfer their contents, it happens a lot faster as the sides, naturally enough, are a lot wider than the ends. I know, I have had plenty of time to watch them.

Whenever we talk about such topics – big loads, greater weight, faster transfer it’s as if the conversation has taken off in a different direction. For data center managers everywhere, it’s all about the data and moving data, storing data, and not let’s not forget to mention, the running of analytics against the data. No longer a case of simply picking up a tray of punched cards and upending them into the card reader, as was once the case (and a task that was taken away from me at one point in my career), but across every channel connected to a computer, voluminous amounts of data flow.

As I watch the beginning of the Internet of Things (IoT) era where almost every mechanical device known to man will be connected to the internet (along with every conceivable contraption being turned into an effective measuring instrument), the prospect of even more data needing to be moved is inescapable. Unfortunately, among the NonStop community, such movement of data has been associated with batch processing, something NonStop applications treat with disdain and yet, much of the data NonStop transactions use either as raw material or as finished product is of value to other parts of the business. And it has to be moved.

As someone who is passionate about cars, a special case of IoT that caught my eye was the recent news that American legislators were catching on to the potential of Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) communication. Whether it’s vehicle manufacturers – Volvo promising that by 2020 it will provide crash-proof cars (a step up from an earlier initiative to provide injury-proof cars by the same year) – for insurance companies or law enforcement, cars that communicate with each other represent a whole new specter of monitoring even as it opens yet another chapter on data movement.

Streams of data will be shared among these with vested interests, leading to a whole raft of new applications. In a recent post to realtime.ir.com, For NonStop there’s no downside to monitoring unidentified moving objects I connected the dots between V2V, the movement of data, and the analytics that will be produced and it wasn’t hard to miss the impact that would be made. The real holy grail of business insight, I suggested in that post to the IR blog, has always been determining behavior so as to better focus critical business resources on the closing of sales opportunities. In other words, interrupt the flow of data and view incomplete scenarios and the insight derived will be less than meaningful even if the applications are brand new!

When you think about it, nowhere would this behavior determination add more value than when applied to driving a car.  Furthermore, if we don’t elect to ban driverless cars outright then V2V is inevitable – younger generations of drivers have become too distracted these days. So serendipitous that after all these years, data center consoles and dashboards may shortly be a collage of real dashboards and the real time monitoring familiar to every data center operator will reflect more closely a world that gave rise to much of the jargon that’s used within the data center – system crashes, scratch-files, and (data) collisions  included!

IoT, V2V and even M2M, which has been with us way longer than many of us care to acknowledge, are responsible not only for new opportunities for vendors like IR with Prognosis, but also for the greater movement of data we see today. But moving data has been going on for years, NonStop systems included, despite any apparent disdain for the process. All too often when we discuss solutions running on NonStop and quickly delve into the middleware deployed, our attention gravitates to the transaction processing components. However, for these solutions to participate in the world at large, assumptions are made and empty “boxes” included in flowcharts (to be filled in later) that convey a rather false sense of “she’ll be right, mate!” Files will be moved somehow and we will get there, on the day. Yet keeping that data moving is every bit as important as any consumption of data from any client device.

Contrary to what we may have read in a recent post by Mark Hurd, this is not simply a case of making sure you get everything from just one vendor, Oracle preferably. If you missed my opinion on this subject, check out my most recent post to the blog at WebAction, Ain’t no bugs on me … and yes, I have been waiting a long time to get this jingle into a business blog post. The NonStop team has recognized that they alone will not be able to provide everything the user community may require and this has led to there being there a very strong vendor community well-versed in what users require and when it comes to moving files, this is especially the case.

I covered this recently in a private communication to a major client where I referenced perhaps one of the least talked about products on NonStop – DataExpress. DataExpress has been in the business of moving files for several decades and it has done an effective job for some of the biggest Financial Institutions (FI) on the planet. For a number of them, simply having deployed DataExpress is a market differentiator all by itself. As Michelle Marost, President of DataExpress, sees things, “Our clients know that moving data securely and efficiently is critical to their business, and have trusted DataExpress to manage the process for them.”

In case you think the realm of data movement is something akin to upending boxes of punched cards into a reader, think again. Big Data – well, there’s a lot of data that has to be moved to maximize the effectiveness of Big Data frameworks and the analytics they feed. Clouds – well, more than anything else, there’s lots of data that needs to be securely moved in and out of cloud resources. According to DataExpress’s Marost, “Anyone can move bits and bytes between business units, customers and machines, but have you asked yourself if your business, your relationships and your reputation could survive intact should the integrity of that data be compromised.”

Whether it’s open cut mines, excavating a site for a new high-rise building, or simply freeway construction, moving the dirt is a costly exercise so the quicker it can be moved the better. Not only is it costly in dollar terms, but also in time where smaller loads push out completion dates. Much the same can be said about data, of course. However, there’s a lot more to the story – moving data as not just an adjunct to the main process, it is the main process for some applications. Miss getting all the data to a government agency on time, and penalties will follow.

Finally, Marost reflected, “We see more interest in secure file transfer, not less, and we have a growing pipeline of features that will prove even more valuable for our HP customers down the road!” Clouds? Big Data? Social Media? Email? Yes, this growing pipeline of features from DataExpress embraces them all and in the end, will likely mitigate the disdain many of us may feel about the task of moving data. However, in the highly charged world of always-on, it’s imperative for all parties to have access to timely and complete data and this will always involve moving data. Keeping those side dump trucks moving may not be such a distraction after all!    

Monday, September 8, 2014

Yet another anniversary … yet another post! And NonStop holds firm …

I am still at it and the posts keep on coming. No surprises here but the readership continues to grow and fair enough, the message on NonStop is attracting an even bigger audience. Yes, it’s all happening and shortly, user events will dominate NonStop community agendas worldwide!

I had to remind myself not to forget writing this post; after all, remembering anniversaries remains an important consideration in all we do. Shortly, I will be returning to the race track for one more time before summer ends and there’s no escaping that, with the coming of autumn, winter is only a few weeks away. Already fall colors are in evidence everywhere; the neighborhood pools are being closed, gardens are undergoing their annual clean-up and trim, and inside garages battery tenders are being readied for use. 

This year I will skip a lengthy introduction and just come out with it – seven years of posting to this NonStop community blog are now behind me as of last month and now it’s time to look ahead at a new year of posts. Based on feedback from you I now post three, occasionally four posts a month with each one more or less a feature article. I learnt very early on that posting almost daily wasn’t something many of you had time to read, even if the posts were only 800 words or so and there was nothing technical involving the merits of some obscure programming trick or a feature of a programming language.

If you have missed an earlier anniversary posts, I have now set up a label -
Anniversary Post Follow this link and you will find all previous posts. Furthermore, and just as a reminder, there’s a label set up that takes you to all previous posts on my wishes for NonStop – posts I write every three years and if you are interested in knowing how these wishes have involved over time and have missed a couple of them,  take a look at this label - Wishes However, what I welcome most are the comments that are posted and also there are discussions in many LinkedIn groups, I continue to encourage readers to look at the many comments posted to the LinkedIn group of the same name, Real Time View.

Of course, there are folks within HP too who continue to encourage an ongoing presence in social media – it’s an inexpensive way to communicate passion for the product and to engage more directly with the community. Independent blogs with an arms-distance relationship to a primary vendor are among the best read blogs and in many ways, have relegated old-style newsletters from even the most respected thought-leaders to just historical footnotes. The immediacy of posts is appreciated by all members of a community and this is understood by many within HP. “I see tremendous value from independent bloggers providing commentary on HP and NonStop,” said Gary Allen, Senior Manager, HPS Marketing Programs. “Social networking is of huge value and doing so independently of HP, especially valuable as readers of your blog always anticipate a perspective that reflects your history and experience.”

Building a community around NonStop requires many things to happen and in the past, this mostly involved user gatherings. ITUG was once all that the community talked about – indeed, when I first joined Tandem Computers it was the very existence of ITUG that helped me decide to join Tandem. Working at the time on the east coast, colleagues returning from an ITUG event in New Orleans couldn’t stay quiet about all that had happened there. However, social media has pretty much plugged the hole that was once the task of big tent user–run events.

It’s not as if we no longer like to network, but the reality is that few of us have budgets that cover the cost of an annual pilgrimage to San Jose. In all likelihood, few companies running NonStop today even have the staff on hand sufficiently populous to allow a few to disappear for a week. In talking to HP, at one point the conversation turned to the matter of there no longer being a “bench” of technical staff trained and experienced in NonStop to throw at new projects – having tiers made up of senior managers, technicians and junior staff has evaporated leaving data centers staffed by just a few system administrators casting an occasional glimpse at a console display. Yet, surely we can afford time to get together for the shorter, regional, gatherings and we sure strive to find a way to get to the San Jose bootcamp! I hope to see many of you at those events through the year!

Recently, in a discussion on LinkedIn, someone asked the NonStop community whether “Tandem is any longer a renowned server” and “who is going to appreciate it”? Furthermore, from the same individual, “for Java developers working in Tandem it’s a hard task as they can’t bring any new things to it!” Now, I am not clear as to the maturity of this individual or just how experienced he is with working on the latest NonStop systems but I am sure there will be others within the NonStop community who will step in here and provide additional insight – but bottom line, if it’s the latest iteration of the NonStop stack, it’s not that hard to port Java applications these days. “Java rocks!” is still the catch-cry of one well- respected NonStop architect in the user community.

However, the question aside, the more important consideration here is that the issue was even raised in the first place. Social media may not be everyone’s cup of tea but for those within the NonStop community scattered as they are to the four corners of the planet, social media is doing a fine job providing us all with a sense of community. If you aren’t all that certain, just take a short time out and check how many active discussion groups and chat rooms are there – from LinkedIn to Yahoo and Google – all devoted to helping out NonStop developers whenever they experience difficulties.

How many within the NonStop community would have thought there would be separate LinkedIn discussion groups for them involving topics like Clouds and Big Data – if you missed it, this was the central theme of last week’s post,
A time to put the hammer down! NonStop accelerating adoption of Clouds and Big Data … If, as yet, you haven’t read that post, it’s well worth the time spent. Again, just the mere presence of such groups sends out an important message – there’s plenty worth discussing on topics like these and there’s more than just an individual or two looking at ways to leverage such key transforming technologies. For me, the presence of as many LinkedIn groups as there are that include NonStop in their group name is more than encouraging – and the NonStop community has to be pleased with the evolution of some of these groups.

This is the start of my eight year of blogging and as I look back, there’s been a couple of common themes but no matter how you look at them, these themes do center on why we aren’t doing more to promote NonStop and why aren’t there more solutions on NonStop and, in a related fashion, why isn’t the rest of the industry as proud of NonStop as we all are – the IDC and Gartner, the InfoWorld and CIO publications. After four decades, why aren’t informed CIOs more appreciative of the fault tolerant technology inherent in the integrated hardware / software stack that is today the modern NonStop system?

In part, it still is up to all of us to become part of the process – yes we would like to see more promotional material from HP but in the end, we have a thriving community involving many stakeholders and we have a voice. We should be using it far more aggressively – flooding every chatroom and community group we come across. Others are doing this and very successfully – so, what about us? Why should we be quiet?  NonStop is indeed a renowned server and NonStop has a global community that knows this! NonStop has a history and that’s important but having a history doesn’t imply a legacy solution – rather, it demonstrates flexibility and adaptability in a way few other systems can claim to have achieved.

Winter may be coming shortly – the signs of fall are more prevalent than just a few days ago.  The temperatures along the front ranges drop 20 degrees today and will hold at that level for the next week or so. But winter is a time of regeneration, a time to regroup if you like. For the NonStop community it’s also a period for user gatherings across the globe and yes, I will be attending several of them – from Philadelphia to Toronto to San Jose. In coming together as a group it’s time, too, to encourage and nurture – and to hear more good news about NonStop that will be the fodder for yet another year of blogging!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A time to put the hammer down! NonStop accelerating adoption of Clouds and Big Data …

Do we really need to see the big guy wielding a mighty hammer, or are areas of focus for many in IT already being covered by smaller blows leveraging what we already have?


Boulder has been hit with some amazing thunderstorms of late, with another one passing overhead early this afternoon. Rather fortuitous in some respects as I took time to have a look – boiling clouds with amazing displays of nature’s powers as lightning flashes lit the sky. It was a big display of nature’s awesomeness. Lightning, disrupting the normality of an afternoon; clouds, the source of tremendous energy; no matter where you stood, the display was on a grand scale – big, by anyone’s measure.

At the macro level, prairie thunderstorms are majestic to watch whether you are out in the open or tucked up alongside a mountain. However, stepping away from nature there are still amazing sights to take in that are man-made. To me, the unrelenting drive to miniaturization blows my mind – there’s just no real way to equate what is inside a modern chip to anything we can see in the real world. When quantum physicists talk of size where 2 to the power of 512 is referenced in the same breath as being more than the sum of all atoms in the known universe, then yes, we have come a long way from a system my father showed me in the mid-1960s that had 8K bits of memory, yet still could store a program.

All of this is leading to the topic of the week and the two subjects are increasingly becoming related – Clouds and Big Data. A short time ago I started a couple of LinkedIn groups aimed at the NonStop community. Clouds, powered by NonStop, that now has 271 members and is a couple of weeks old and Big Data, integrated with NonStop that has fewer than 40 members but is relatively new.  Including NonStop in the names of both groups was intentional, as I wanted to make sure any new member of the NonStop community that searched for groups focused on NonStop would see that there is interest within the community in both Cloud and Big Data. If this is all new to you and as yet, you haven’t joined, then perhaps you should take a few minutes and do so.

While the community is concerned about the growing number of LinkedIn groups out there, its highly intentional on my part to project an image of NonStop that may surprise folks – of late I have become selective about the ones I do end up joining and the metric most important for me is the volatility of the group – just how much is going on. If you have seen some of the discussions and the passions they arouse on groups like Tandem User Group and Real Time View, you will know what I mean. Clouds and Big Data are very important for all stakeholders in the NonStop community. Many businesses have embarked on modernization initiatives so I have to ask you – do your modernization initiatives actively involve Clouds and Big Data?

As a place to start, did you know that vendors, well known to the NonStop community, have begun taking steps along the path to clouds. “The model today is cloud computing is inevitable even among the financial institutions I count as customers,” said OmniPayments, Inc. CEO, Yash Kapadia. “It’s inevitable because it represents a more sensible approach to providing the best value for the dollars spent. Too often we size systems and include software with expectations of the volume and type of transactions a customer will face but this can lead to erring on the conservative side with customers ending up paying more. And this is not what we want to do at OmniPayments. Elasticity of provisioning as well as providing capacity on demand is just the latest way to express a need for flexibility and with cloud computing, whether the cloud is on site and private, or is on our premises and managed, it is simply a way to better leverage commodity hardware and open systems.”

The productizing of the demo that has been showcased at the last couple of HP Discover events by Infrasoft as maRunga is just one more proof point. To those embarked on modernization projects where the volume of searches is high, as their clients spend more time looking up items, then maRunga is an easy first step to take on their path to clouds. And solutions for NonStop that include support of clouds are already being deployed. “OmniPayments has already been sold as a cloud offering in the America’s and is in an early stage of customer acceptance. In this first instance, there’s both a private cloud on site as well as a managed cloud on our premises for back-up purposes. And yes, NonStop systems are an important part of both cloud computer configurations,” added Yash. “Are we playing liberties with the concept of cloud computing? I don’t believe we are as the cloud we externalize to the customer is a collection of processors the specifics of which aren’t visible to the customer.”

The arrival of big data comes at a crucial time for the industry. In an always-connected, online world it’s imperative that we have the right information at our fingertips to sway our clients to more favorably consider what we offer. So often we emphasize two of the Vs associated with big data – volume and velocity – but timing is of the uttermost importance when integrating the world of big data with transaction processing, NonStop’s forte. “From our perspective, we should be talking about ‘time value of information’”, said Managing Consultant, Enterprise Solutions & Architecture at Hewlett-Packard, T.C. Janes. “Time is the enemy of data.”

“Big Data is driving much of the agenda of IT of late – business is fully aware that they need better insight into their business and that only comes when meaningful information can be extracted from the reams of data accumulating all around them,” said WebAction, Inc. Cofounder Sami Akbay. “However, the need isn’t something that can be addressed without understanding that relevant and applicable data, meeting business criteria, needs to be captured and repackaged for consumption by business logic central to the running of the business. When NonStop is taken into consideration this is particularly important as it’s often NonStop applications interacting directly with customers – the very community about which better insight is critical.”

I am particularly interested in the work that WebAction has taken to date and in delivering the WebAction product, those in the NonStop community embarking on a modernization revamp, have a very viable solution on hand,  and one that absolutely understands the importance of time. In the August 20, 2014, post 
Value Networking? Nonstop Community Certainly Does! to the WebAction blog, I wrote of how WebAction, by the very nature of the control it ultimately gives to system architects can generate web actions as verbose or as targeted as we need – it’s really the ultimate control gate when it comes to turning on the flow of big data to time-sensitive mission critical applications.  A really big hammer? Yes! A very small hammer? Yes, again!

“Certain types of data have enormous value at its moment of creation but may have less value an hour from now and perhaps no value tomorrow. Stock traders have understood this from time immemorial – if you can identify and act on a transaction opportunity faster than anyone else, you will benefit the most,” added HP’s Janes. “If you can synchronize data arrival velocity with business process velocity, an organization can sell more product, deliver better customer service and capitalize on new business opportunities sooner than their competitors.  Inversely, an organization does not necessarily want to act on every potential black swan “event” if their evaluation of aggregate data yields a contradictory model.”

There is another side to clouds and big data, and that’s the likely intersection of technologies. When it comes to big data and cloud computing then according to HP Master Technologist, Justin Simonds, “I think there will be a collision, at least for a while, as organizations attempt to derive meaning out of every piece of data they can get their hands on.  Cloud is the only ‘price reasonable’ way to churn through all that stuff.” Furthermore, added Simonds, “I believe there will be a falling away as attempt after attempt yields little business insight.  I see the industry adopting specific products for specific requirements. NonStop, as mentioned, is still extremely well designed for the operational analytic, real time velocity events. Vertica still holds the top magic quadrant spot for deep / big data analytics and for all its bad press Autonomy has some very good IP in the audio/video arena.  I believe multiple solutions are the only way to effectively proceed.”

Simonds observations are shared by comForte’s CTO, Thomas Burg. In an interview for an upcoming post to the blog, comForte Lounge, Burg observed that when it comes to “clouds and big data, there almost nothing that is really new here either. Cloud computing is little more than old wine in new caskets where the only issue is one of business best-practices. Can we run this application in a cloud? Can we store this data in a cloud? Security? Bring it on! We have the technology and know-how, we are happy to talk to prospective cloud adopters. Big data is a similar challenge but somehow, many NonStop users see only a big hammer when only a small hammer is needed.” On the other hand, “We continue to include NonStop in our plans for WebAction as there’s no question, serious online processing is occurring on that platform,” added Akbay. “To ignore NonStop would imply we aren’t taking the integration of Big Data with real time processing seriously and that simply isn’t the case.”

It as the Thor, who “put the hammer down”, as Captain America unfortunately requested of him in the film, The Avengers. Watching the lightning storms it wasn’t hard to imagine legendary beings as the source of such a spectacle of nature. Fortunately, when it comes to IT and NonStop, it’s a little less intense but every bit as important particularly as so many within the NonStop community are actively engaged in modernization initiatives. In time, of course, we will find broad exploitation of both technologies across the NonStop community (just as we did with Client / Server computing as well as with SOA and Web services that followed) with much of what is covered here generating little more than a yawn. And if you want to stay informed about what’s important to the community then yes, check out the new groups on LinkedIn and become a member – I look forward to all the comments you care to provide!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Sun, surf and sand – oh, the good-old-days!

With the sun beating down on my face and with a gentle ocean breeze stirring my remaining hair, I kept returning to thoughts of an independent NonStop company – free to pursue whatever it liked. But with the news that just broke … I’m not so sure this would be in the best interests of the NonStop community!

There’s something about the good-old-days that strikes a chord with many of us. For me, nostalgia is an emotion hiding just beneath the surface and perhaps it’s just a reflection of the many experiences I have had through the years. It takes very little to trigger a rush of memories bursting up from the depths, but a glimpse of the sun, a rolling surf and a sunny day usually does the trick! In the posts to this blog I have shared many of my memories and nearly always, glimpses of these memories were a result of something I had just read.

After two plus decades being involved with the NonStop community I have to admit that many of these memories are intimately tied to events that occurred while spending time with the community. The highlights of course were the years spent on the board of ITUG and I am very aware that those good-old-days are long gone, with little prospect of ever being repeated. Like almost everything else that gets tarnished by the label of legacy, I have come to realize that in today’s world where everyone is connected, relying on an annual big-tent gathering of the faithful for insight into product directions and technology adoption doesn’t need to exist, not in the same format it did for so many years.

Like many of the stakeholders participating in today’s NonStop community, we have watched the NonStop R&D group being trimmed. There’s been good reason for much of what’s been cut and the figures can be a little disconcerting. However, looking at NonStop R&D today it is clearly not comparable with what we remember back when it was Tandem Computers – the way HP is organized, tasks have been scattered throughout many groups. While it is good to know that the finances of the good ship, NonStop, have been righted and the contribution NonStop makes to HP’s bottom line is not something to quibble over, like everyone else I sure would like to see more funds allocated to NonStop.

Ah, the memories! They keep coming back even as I think back to Friday beer busts and afternoons in the Tandem pool. The printing of tee shirts for each new project and the Tandem television network with
First Friday videos – now available on YouTube – the sense of shared missions and the recognition that quarter after quarter, major enterprises were buying new systems. However, perhaps the best news of all escapes many of us. In a world of off-the-shelf commodity components, NonStop remains relevant.

When it comes to providing the highest levels of uptime, it’s still the halo product in HP’s portfolio – yes, as HP CEO, Meg Whitman, so succinctly summed up in a video at last year’s NonStop bootcamp, “Today, enterprises operate in a world where the demand for continuous application availability is growing exponentially. The need to choose the right computer for the right workload at the right economics has never been so important … we are on the path to redefine mission critical computing.” And, every bit as importantly for those attending, “Our NonStop customers truly make it matter!”

I have referenced this quote by Whitman several times this year – to posts here as well as in other blogs – and this quote remains as fresh in my mind as when it was first made. Choosing the right computer for the right workload at the right economics frames the discussion for NonStop now, and in the years to come. Step outside that framework and fail to meet any of criteria referenced, and the future for NonStop wouldn’t be as solid as it looks right now. Yes, we continue to kick around the impact that The Machine will have as the decade comes to a close, but it’s hard to overlook that even with a brand new OS, consideration will more than likely be given to attributes uniquely NonStop and to the enterprises that depend on NonStop.

Against this backdrop of NonStop and the memories I have of the good-old-days, it was with some disquiet that I read the news item in the August 1, 2014, edition of the Wall Street Journal. Under the heading of
Deal With H-P Paves New Future for Old Software the WSJ reported that HP had “agreed to let a small Massachusetts company – VMS Software - take over further development of OpenVMS, an operating system that originated at Digital Equipment Corp. in 1977. DEC no longer exists, but its technology has lived for years under HP’s ownership and still has passionate users.”

Furthermore, following a couple of announcements HP made last year to do with future ports of OpenVMS (to faster Intel chips) not happening, the WSJ  said the “H-P decision stunned organizations that use the software to run sensitive applications, in places like stock exchanges, manufacturing lines and chemical plants.” It then quoted VMS Software’s CEO, Duane Harris, as saying, “Everybody was in a panic,” and that users felt they “suddenly had no future.”

For quite some time there have been several stakeholders with lengthy ties to NonStop thinking that it may be a good thing to approach HP to see if there would be interest in splitting off NonStop and giving it to a company solely focused on its future. On paper, such an idea had merit for any entity with deep enough pockets to fund needed R&D “in perpetuity”. However, nothing developed and as I look at this story in the WSJ I am so glad nothing did eventuate. If there could be a stronger message to any community than yes, you are on your own, I don’t know of one and while we all harbor doubts about the performance of HP over NonStop, the good news is that NonStop remains an integral part of HP!

My loyalties have wavered through the years. Readers may recall my post of August 30, 2011,
Stories we could tell … I was standing in the offices of John Robinson, CEO of SDI (NET/MASTER) when I received offers from both DEC and Tandem (of course, electing to join Tandem Computers) and today it seems as though working on the fringes of HP was pre-determined! However, any thought that the future of DEC would finish up in the hands of a small software group in Massachusetts was unimaginable and yet, here we are today watching the winding down of a once mighty player on the computer stage.

There are a couple of sayings that come to mind at this point. Memories being what they are, I am not all that sure where I first heard them but family does come to mind. “Never set your goals too low in case you achieve them” is what I immediately thought of as I continued reading the WSJ story. For the NonStop community thinking big is still the objective and any thoughts I may have once had about the benefits of separating NonStop from HP are long gone. The simple truth is that to maintain a global reach and to ensure best usage possible of commodity items, it takes a company the size of HP to bring the resultant products to market in a cost-effective manner.

“The right computer for the right workload at the right economics,” seems such a simple observation and yet, with HP giving away OpenVMS as it has done (and as good a technology as OpenVMS had been), it apparently no longer was the right computer for the markets it served. IBM faces much the same dilemma with its midrange computers, the strangely morphed Power Systems (including what formerly was known as the System i and before that, the eServer iSeries and, going even further back, the AS/400 that has family ties back to the System/38 that appeared around the same time as the first Tandem computer) and speculation is rife that it too will end up in the hands of others apart from IBM. NonStop continues to retain just enough “special sauce” to differentiate it at times when even the most adventurous of us have thought NonStop surely couldn’t continue – but it does!

The good-old-days are gone and gone with them are the difficult times of programming complexities with limited connectivity. What I recall as being part of the good-old-days had little to do with technology and more to do with much of the social activities (loved the 1980s!) and as much as I muse about what doesn’t exist any longer there’s no escaping the leaps that have been made in productivity. The choice of platforms remains rich and the opportunities to innovate almost limitless and so, having NonStop in the picture, an integral part of HP and continuing to contribute. Even as I wish the folks at VMS software well, I no longer harbor wishes for NonStop to follow suit and look forward to better-new-days ahead! 

Monday, August 4, 2014

It’s the data, stupid!

I remain puzzled if not shocked to find so many members of the NonStop community simply ducking the issue. Raise your hands, crash meetings and do whatever it takes to be part of your company’s plans – Data from anywhere / everywhere is critical for the future of providing meaningful results to transaction processing!

Ever since the first book was published, I have been an ardent follower of the series of books, Dune, written by Frank Herbert. If ever there was a tale worthy of the talents of famed New Zealand director, Peter Jackson, then this is it – once he wraps up the latest Hobbit trilogy, perhaps he will turn his hand to Dune! Travelling across the galaxies? No problem, let’s just fold space! Lost a valued colleague? Not a problem either, just order up a clone! Central to the story line is spice – a very special spice that’s required to sustain the Mentat, “human computers”, as well as the Spacing Guild “navigators”.

For those not familiar with the story line of Dune, spice is the key that unlocks the universe as well as holds it captive; it’s at the very center of intergalactic intrigue and is only found on one sandy planet, Dune. Turn a page in any of the books, and there’s barely a paragraph without some reference to the planet and the treasures lying hidden beneath its sandy dunes. So it is too today, as we look at the work being done by the world’s data centers – highly valued business gems lying buried under data dunes.

If we were in the midst of a general election involving all in IT then it would be easy to sum up the issues of the day under the general declaration – it’s the data, stupid! So much of what’s driving technology is in response to the unrelenting upward escalation in the volumes of data that are being generated. No longer can we afford to simply throw data away. It’s scary to think of just how much useful business information fell through the cracks in former times just as it’s equally as scary to think of what we may learn if we pull into our daily operational lives even more data currently accumulating outside of our sphere of operations.  

“A number of years ago while running extremely high volumes of airline shopping queries through NonStop being monitored by Prognosis from IR; we were literally dumping valuable log data in the bit bucket. Locked within the log data was what the traveling public was asking for, what they were shown, and what they bought with regards to air travel,” observed former Sabre IT executive (and former ITUG Chairman), Scott Healy. “This stream of data, well actually more like a raging torrent of data, could have been analyzed and used to create actionable, real time business intelligence for airlines.” 

Data is attracting the spot light and dominating the stage of almost every technology event being promoted these days, and for good cause. What we see today is a greater awareness that answers lie in what we already process – connect the dots, dig deep into historical data and what others are saying, and a more complete picture can be painted. As Healy was only too keen to add, “What would have been interesting would have been to show the airline customers insights gleaned from a day of the log data, or perhaps a few days.  Find out what they were interested in (vis-√†-vis willing to pay for) and what data should be summarized and stored for future trending analysis.”

A fall-out from recent tragic international events involving aircraft exposed just how much machine to machine communications were already happening. The network of sensors communicating operational information around the clock surprised many unfamiliar with the subject and yet, we have only just scratched the surface. Modern automobiles are producing enormous amounts of data as are the buildings and factories around us. Infrastructure from power grids to the distribution and subsequent treatment of water to the stocking of retailers’ shelves, it all involves data being generated and passed over networks that for the most part, are public.

While storage manufacturers are happy to see this unrelenting upward escalation in the volume of data being generated, there really are limits to just how much data any one enterprise ends up retaining. Policies are already in place that limit the amount of data retained to just a day, or a week, or even a couple of months. However, when it comes to national security, medical research and even public records, arguments can be made to keep every bit of data that passes through the processing environment. After all, forensic mining of data for greater insight into trends has become an industry in its own right.

For the NonStop community this is proving more than a fad. It’s vitally important to all parties that better insight is realized, whether it’s insight about the business, about the market, or even the IT operations itself, acting insightfully is not just an innovative move but rather mandatory one for most enterprises and it’s only with access to data – all the data – that this degree of insight can be achieved. In my most recent discussions with vendors this isn’t being overlooked and has become the subject of initiatives aimed at better addressing this requirement.

Yes, it’s the data, stupid! So no, it’s not acceptable to “log data in the bit bucket”. However, it is equally not acceptable to blindly store everything without due consideration given to the value. This is something I touched on in my past post when I noted how, for many enterprises where NonStop systems are relied upon, the trend is towards “capture, analyze, store”,  with mechanisms in place that allow pertinent data analyzed and even stored to be reused by processes at the time additional data is being captured.

I hadn’t yet joined Tandem Computers when the news began to percolate through the industry that Tandem was working on a permanently available implementation of SQL. Overseen by the late, great, Dr. Jim Gray, NS SQL challenged many traditional beliefs about SQL implementations – it’s mixed workload capabilities that allow NS SQL to keep on processing even as DBAs run all-important statistics (needed to keep SQL “in tune) or, as I reported a few years back with respect to one large NonStop user, “maintenance? Truly, we run reorgs, statistics, splits, column adds, etc. all without taking anything down. It’s the NonStop fundamentals!”

NS SQL did exploit the fundamentals but all those years ago, Gray was aware that IT dynamics were evolving and that there would be even more data to process, and that transactions themselves would be even more data intensive. Indeed, after the passing of Gray, Microsoft announced that they would create the eScience Award for the researcher “who has made an outstanding contribution to the field of data-intensive computing”.

Furthermore, according to Microsoft, “In a lecture he delivered just 17 days before he went missing, Jim outlined the increasingly important challenge and opportunity afforded by the availability of previously unimaginable volumes of data and continuous research dedicated to creating new understanding of the world around us.” In other words, even the acknowledged father of NS SQL recognized that ahead of us would be an unrelenting upward escalation in the volume of data and, with these unimaginable volumes of data, the opportunity to provide unimaginable insight into all that transpires in an enterprise.

“Augmenting a transaction and giving it access to additional information for greater insight,” WebAction EVP, Sami Akbay, advised in the last post of last month, I need data I can digest, in small bites, please! before adding, “seems to be a reasonable request and one we are taking seriously.” I am referencing WebAction more often these days as I pursue the story of data and it’s no coincidence that the executive team is made up of former GoldenGate executives. Nor is it a coincidence that they see the need for greater integration of data from disparate sources being a logical next step following data replication and data integration. Like Gray, WebAction appreciates that to fully understand the business world around them, the importance of data cannot be understated.

Mobility, IoT and M2M exchanges, Big Data and Clouds are all involved in data Рgenerating data, processing data and storing data Рand it should come as no surprise to anyone in the NonStop community to read of the innovative solutions under development that continue to include NonStop systems. IR, comForte, WebAction and OmniPayments are just a few of the vendors I know first-hand are involved in some aspect of data-intensive computing. We can take our eyes off numerous initiatives and not be hurt too badly but if we become blasé about the importance of data, we run the risk of being blind-sided by our competitors.

Yes, it’s most definitely all about the data, stupid – so pay attention, as there’s plenty of data suggesting this is a development not to be ignored! The picture used (above) wasn't taken at some desolate spot on the earth but rather, nearby; tucked under the shadow of the Rocky Mountains about 200 miles from Boulder and a must-see for even the most casual tourist. And who knows what treasure lies beneath those sandy dunes. And likewise, there are gems aplenty buried within those monstrous data dunes rising from the floors of today’s data centers! 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

I need data I can digest, in small bites, please!

When it comes to the NonStop community discussing the potential benefits from Big Data often results in conversations about taking baby steps and where less big may be the place to start! 

How many times have we heard the expression “biting off more than we can chew”? Whether it applies to household chores, car maintenance, or simply arranging our next vacation, there’s always something that comes up that belays expected benefits and rewards. With summer and the time for BBQs, this expression often comes to mind.

There’s no denying that IT is littered with failed projects and the more I talk with IT professionals, the more I sense that we continue to bite off more than we can chew. Even among the NonStop community, it’s not uncommon to hear of projects, from simple modernization efforts to major system upgrades, coming up short and often simply abandoned.

This week, a couple of emails arrived that had me thinking about past failures and they were all about Big Data – multiple invitations to read papers, participate in surveys and join webcasts. While it’s true that Big Data is among the most talked about topics across IT, it’s also a little overwhelming and the opinions from experts do little to lessen our anxieties. For a while it seemed that the NonStop community could pull its head in on Big Data, but now companies are wanting to elicit marketing “truths” as they develop in real time and NonStop is in the cross-hairs of every business manager targeting exploitation of Big Data in real time.

First up, I received an invite from HP to join HP CEO, Meg Whitman, and her team working on Big Data “as they discuss the pressure to extract valuable insights from your data even as the volume and variety of data being collected significantly increase.” There’s those two critical V’s again that along with variety (and occasionally veracity), help define Big Data. However, this wasn’t the item that caught my attention. It was the reference to there being “the pressure to extract valuable insights” within IT as it continues to store all the data it captures. So much in fact that apart from those selling storage, nobody seems all that sure if there’s anything good going on at all!

Secondly, there came an invitation from IBM to “tell us what it takes to create a data-driven competitive advantage”. When you dig a little deeper into the invite, IBM let’s on that it is “seeking a cross-industry, global pool of respondents who have business or technical responsibilities for analytics activities.” What followed was a survey IBM created from which it hopes to be able to get a better sense of what business really does need.

The third email was a link to a HP post,
No limits: How Big Data changes competition - Data drives the bottom line, and technology is no longer limiting your competitors. “Data-focused businesses have rejected the concept of compromising business objectives for the sake of technology,” said HP. HP said it after noting that “For organizations that weren’t ‘born’ in the era of no-limits technology, a transformation is required.” Furthermore, HP adds, “It’s a novel idea for most organizations, but it’s in the DNA of young, agile companies.” And, “To compete, the rest of the market will need to act urgently to change their data ideologies and reject limitations as they store and explore data, and serve analytics insights to the business.”

The one thing I believe we can all agree on is that everyone has an opinion about Big Data, but here’s the problem as I see it; is this simply a case of there being more Big Data than we can chew and if so, is what we would really like actually less Big Data? Very few enterprises today feel comfortable with committing to three or five year projects and are more interested in immediate gratification – so, can we reduce Big Data into bite size chunks and indeed, can we tighten the focus data-driven apps and apply to lesser, more mundane tasks?

But again, here’s the rub and I have written about it in other posts – Big Data is not an off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-all solution. In fact, it’s not really a solution but rather a tool that, in the hands of knowledgeable business scientists, can perform amazing feats and deliver incredible business insight. For most enterprises I know, such business scientists are a non-entity. Where they do exist they are a part of a vendor and are focused on making sure product A outperforms product B. And, as an aside, I am pretty sure that, over the long haul the model of capturing then storing then analyzing data is not a sustainable model – capture, analyze, store seems to be a little more workable for the enterprise.

Among the NonStop vendor community there’s already inklings of what lies ahead – solutions and middleware vendors are beginning to add capabilities that tap Big Data. IR with Prognosis has already confirmed that it’s at vendors like IR “where you will find the data architects, statisticians and data scientists that can decipher what’s taking place from the myriad of events coming from multiple sources.” In the May 6, 2014, post to realtime.ir
For business managers today, situational awareness is critical … IR’s Jay Horton then added how, “The Business Insight provided by IR, is as big as the customers want it to be, and is limited only by their perspective on what is important to measure.” Alerts produced before a crises starts is always more preferable than an alert that simply states the obvious – you have been robbed!

As for the solution vendors, it’s hard to miss the messages coming from OmniPayments CEO, Yash Kapadia. According to Yash, in the March 12, 2013, post to ATMmarketplace
You don’t have to make it to 6th grade to know EMV support is the smart thing to do! ,when the discussion with any prospect turns to fraud, then “my experience tells me that work being done in adjacent technologies such as analytics and the accumulation of data in Big Data frameworks is going to be leveraged by payments platforms in new and innovative ways. Legitimate customer experience cannot be compromised, of course, but the need to detect potential fraud as it is being perpetrated has become of paramount importance to all in the financial industry.”

Expressing similar sentiment to those by IR, Yash also notes that across his constituency there’s “little expectation that customers will have the ‘Big Data’-skilled scientists at hand and are looking to OmniPayments to capitalize on Big Data (where it’s in place and accessible) and furthermore while I am not expecting to see Big Data implementations on NonStop systems I am expecting to be a consumer of Big Data analytics generated in real time.”

“No transformation required” is well understood at WebAction. “To be completely honest, when it comes to enterprises relying on NonStop systems for mission critical transaction processing,” said WebAction Executive VP, Sami Akbay, “we know of no instances where embracing the value of Big Data has seen such an enterprise replace their NonStop system. Quite the opposite, in fact, augmenting a transaction and giving it access to additional information for greater insight seems to be a reasonable request and one we are taking seriously.”

While WebAction isn’t changing the underlying technology of its core product, the messages in support of WebAction have become more tightly focused of late – visitors to the
WebAction web site can now view a number of examples that are of interest to any enterprise running NonStop systems. “Whether it’s just a case of optimizing data center management along the lines IR has recognized or enhancing security event processing where OmniPayments sees concerns, we are seeing enterprises building, modifying and then deploying real-time apps in days and not months or years.”

Should you be interested in following the discussion about Big Data and its intersection with NonStop and real time transaction processing, you may want to join the new LinkedIn group, Big Data, integrated with NonStop. While there is no Connect SIG supporting Big Data at this time, this may do as a substitute.

Biting off more than you can chew has plagued IT for as long as IT has existed. The five-year Mega projects that make headlines have a poor history of completing on time and meeting expected requirements – not hard to imagine as IT just hasn’t ever stood still for five years. Vendors selecting elements of Big Data they see as helpful and enhancing the capabilities of their products also makes sense and is something easily comprehended. New vendors building tools to enhance the experience of consumers interacting with mission critical real time applications is also easy for most of us to swallow.

Less big might be right up there with giant shrimp and user friendly but to those who have witnessed change within IT over decades, breaking down a new technology into bite-size chunks makes sense. Big Data is above all else, big! And as such, demands transformation even as it favors those companies starting from scratch. However, when it comes to the NonStop community and the enterprises they serve, the risks associated with ripping and replacing isn’t attractive and seeing Big Data arrive incrementally is a godsend!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

HP NonStop systems’ deployments you might have missed!

“Downtime of any kind results in a loss of confidence and competitive advantages in the marketplace,” observes IDC Group Vice President and General Manager, Enterprise Platforms, Matthew Eastwood. And yet, as a community, do we truly know where NonStop systems run today? 

As a writer it’s not every day that I get to write about my favorite topic, but a few months ago, I was given such an opportunity to once again write about NonStop. Of course, check it out now – it will be easy to spot: HP NonStop systems as you haven’t seen them before and even if you lose this link, just go to hp.com/go/nonstop For me it’s always been a lot of fun working with the folks at HP on topics like this.

In discussions with HP late last year, following 2013 HP Discover, I began focusing on material that was pulled together as part of a presentation given by Wendy Bartlett, NonStop solutions: beyond financial services and telco. Yes, if you follow the link, you can still access the material Wendy used in her presentation. I was among the more fortunate attendees that were given a sneak preview of what Wendy was to present during an early morning breakfast briefing for attendees from Asia Pac / Japan.
           
I covered this in the post of June 29, 2013, It’s running on NonStop – I didn’t know that! where I remarked on how, not so long ago, I had proposed a story line that hit many of the same non-financial and non-telco verticals that went something like this: imagine a businessman in Germany, I suggested, who drops off his car at the manufacturing plant for special service (yes, you can still do that with some auto manufacturers in Europe), buys a rail ticket to Frankfurt where he catches a flight to New York, where he is to follow up on a recent shipment that he had made.

Perhaps this was the catalyst for the conversations that followed, but working with the NonStop community as well as starting several LinkedIn discussions on this topic, it quickly became apparent that most of us are truly unaware of the diversity of use-case scenarios that exist off the well-worn paths that wind through financial and telco uses. We underestimate the level of enthusiasm for NonStop among the non-conventional users, even as we are often ignorant about just how long these NonStop systems have been in place.

I am particularly attracted to industries apart from financial and telco, as my IT career began in heavy industry and transportation. My early days, as a cadet / trainee, were spent at a steelworks in Wollongong, New South Wales, building the software required of a new steel mill under construction in Victoria. I then spent time working in shipping – container ships had just started coming to Australia –where I accepted my first overseas assignment at the company’s head office in London. A few years later I found myself working in Canada for a large regional distributor of Caterpillar.

Perhaps there’s no better background – steelworks, shipping and then manufacturing – when writing about NonStop’s presence in industries apart from finance and telco. As I worked with present day users of NonStop, the years spent under blast furnaces, on docks alongside ships, and inside the cabins of giant earth-moving tractors, memories come flooding back from these times. Yes, there are real reasons why NonStop remains relevant today within these market segments – more often than not, these markets process continuously and outages are every bit as damaging as they are to financial institutions and telcos.

To kick off my assignment for HP not only did I have access to Wendy’s presentation from the 2013 HP Discover, but the brochure developed after the event (and available too on the HP web site) proved extremely helpful. If you aren’t aware of this paper then it’s well worth downloading from the HP web site - check out, For industries that never stop. This is a good brochure and complements the opinion paper I just completed that has just become available from HP – HP NonStop systems as you haven’t seen them before . However, much of the credit for finding the examples of use-case scenarios that I covered needs to go to the community – including HP field personnel.

While not wanting to sound like the winner of a NASCAR event, I do want to thank the solutions architects in both EMEA and the Americas for pointing me in the right direction. I also want to thank the many NonStop vendors that lent a helping hand along the way. This includes comForte, Integrated Research (IR) and a number of payments processing solutions vendors. Even though there weren’t being covered this time, you will find an interesting observation made by one such vendor towards the end of the paper. “NonStop finding traction among users in other markets is a big plus for NonStop,” came the observation, “and that makes our job selling solutions on NonStop a whole lot easier.”

However, it was a report from IDC that really helped anchor the paper. Written by IDC Group Vice President and General Manager, Enterprise Platforms, Matthew Eastwood, and published in November, 2013, it too can be downloaded from the HP web site - just follow this link; Mission-Critical Business Applications: The Need for Always-On Servers. IDC’s Eastwood stated that, “always-on requirements significantly affect business organizations and the IT departments that support those businesses. When downtime is not an option, organizations are increasingly turning to fault-tolerant systems to keep their business up and running.” Seeing the reference to fault-tolerant systems also brought with it another flood of memories.

“As users spend more time online, IT services must be available around the clock. Windows for planned downtime become increasingly difficult to manage, and users are unwilling to accept unplanned downtime,” IDC’s Eastwood observed. “Downtime of any kind results in a loss of confidence and competitive advantages in the marketplace.” Too often we forget about the real reason we continue to depend on NonStop, and perhaps it is not having to face the consequences of outages that numbs our minds to the impressive track record NonStop has developed. There are many systems that with redundant hardware and clever load balancing algorithms mask simple failures but they never quite reach the levels of uptime of a typical NonStop system.

There have been many exchanges in chat rooms and blogs about the quality of today’s components – something that applies to all systems exploiting commodity components. However, NonStop arose at a time when component failures were routine and NonStop simply keeps on going – very much like the Energizer bunny. This is not to sanction poor quality components, but rather highlight how better of NonStop systems are in a era where system packaging is going through dramatic change as vendors look to lower power consumption, run cooler, and take up less space. All for less money, mind you.

So, what can we point to when it comes to businesses depending on NonStop that aren’t either a financial institution or a telco? Without disclosing too much about what is in my latest opinion paper, there are examples of where NonStop has been deployed in support of mission-critical applications in raw materials processing, manufacturing and distribution, transportation and entertainment. While many may be familiar with the presence of UPS on slides used during one of HP CEO, Meg Whitman’s, keynote presentations, how many attendees knew that every time a driver pulled their handheld terminal out to check on their next delivery address, the request was being handled by an application on a NonStop system.

Assumptions are often made and frequently can lead to wrong conclusions – many folks I talked to about the UPS example above thought it was a ProLiant solution. While there are ProLiant’s present at UPS, it’s still NonStop that keeps the trucks moving and I am almost certain that HP folks working on the slides for HP Discover had the same impression. How many folks within the NonStop community really grasp just how big a presence NonStop has in the reservation systems supporting European passenger trains – would you be surprised to find more than half the trains running in Europe have had seats reserved through a NonStop system?

To some within the NonStop community I may have already played my hand and this latest opinion paper simply reinforces what’s already been covered in chat rooms and blogs. For others however, it may be quite a revelation about just how widespread the use of NonStop has become. Irrespective of how well informed you may be, the story of where NonStop systems reside continues to be a compelling story, more so today as we wait for NonStop to support the Intel x86 architecture.

Getting the opportunity to put this all in writing for HP was a task I welcomed so yes, go ahead and check it out; there may be even more surprises than I have led you to believe. Yes, you can download the paper “HP NonStop systems as you haven’t seen them before” from hp.com/go/nonstop - it is a featured resource - and of course – I welcome any comments you care to provide as this is not a topic we need to keep to ourselves. For each and every stakeholder in the NonStop community, the better prepared we are to promote NonStop within our companies, the more likely we will see greater traction develop and with that, I am more than willing to write some more!      

Sunday, July 6, 2014

I feel the need for speed …

It is the age old question - what is speed without reliability and even among those who prize speed over all else, questions are being asked. Are the tables about to turn, once again, and what will open up a seat for NonStop?

Few who ever saw the film Top Gun can readily forget the sensory overload of the opening scenes as aircraft are readied to be catapulted from the deck of an aircraft carrier. And perhaps even fewer still have forgotten one of the most famous lines ever uttered - I feel the need. The need for speed! Adrenalin junkies for sure, but just letting the film embrace you, depositing you right alongside a Top Gun fighter pilot, more effectively communicated the sense of speed than any other film from that era.

Whenever I spend time in our car at weekend track events, it’s inevitable that at some point there will be someone who asks, “How fast does your car go?” The design of road-racing circuits however, isn’t about speed as much as it is about challenging drivers to find the best way around the track. However, it is reliability that ends up being the most appreciated attribute. Simply going very fast, for a brief time, accounts for little over the course of a weekend.

Imagine my surprise than as I turned to the back page of the August 2014 edition of the magazine, Motor Trend, to read Angus MacKenzie’s column, The new fast. “I suspect, when auto historians of the future look back at 2014”, wrote MacKenzie, “they’ll say it was the year ‘hybrid’ became the new fast.” In the world of Formula One racing, the power train in today’s racecars combines a conventional internal combustion engine married to an electric motor. Despite the strange noise they elicit, notes MacKenzie, “I’d happily trade noise for the opportunity to watch the world’s best drivers attempt to tame cars that are clearly a handful.”

For as long as I can recall, every time a new computer system is announced, there’s always a page detailing performance criteria and with each new announcement, the numbers get even more outrageous. During HP CTO Martin Fink’s initial presentation on The Machine, at one point he threw up a slide with the heading, Performance estimates – transaction speed, that was followed with the question, “What could you do with 168 (Giga Updates per second) GPUS? For NonStop users, just breaking the 10,000 tps was an accomplishment that was only recently achieved and yet, now HP is talking up numbers that are mind boggling.

“I feel the need for speed” has been the clarion call of all involved in stock trades. A market that for decades was well-served by NonStop systems, of late the push for even greater speeds has pushed aside NonStop. In August of last year, there were numerous headlines telling of the crashes that had taken place with the most discussed outage being that at NASDAQ. 

According to a report published by Bloomburg on August 26, 2013, Server Crash Spurs 3-Hour NASDAQ Halt as Data Link Lost, “Within two hours, trading stopped in more than 2,000 U.S. stocks. The three-hour shutdown was the latest in a series of failures to disrupt increasingly complicated markets, prompting the Securities and Exchange Commission to push for rules requiring executives to improve the reliability of their technology.”

A few days later, it was The Guardian’s turn to take a look at outages and in the report of August 23, 2013, Nasdaq crash triggers fear of data meltdown - Digital infrastructure exceeding limits of human control, industry experts warn, The Guardian noted how, “On the same day, Microsoft customers began to report email failures. The outage was traced to problems with the Exchange ActiveSync service which serves email to many of the world's smartphones. When Exchange hit a glitch, the sheer volume of phones trying to connect triggered a ripple effect that took three days to control.”

The Guardian then went on to note that on “16 August, many of Google's websites, from email to YouTube to its core search engine, suffered a rare four-minute global meltdown.” Furthermore, to rub even more salt into the wound, it then noted that on, “19 August, Amazon's North American retail site went down for about 49 minutes, with visitors greeted with the word ‘Oops’”. Finally, according to The Guardian, “On 22 August, Apple's iCloud suffered a blackout that affected a small number of its customers but lasted 11 hours.”

Over the course of just a few days – August 16, 19, 22 and 26 – it would seem that reliability all but worked its way out of the world’s major systems. Shouldn’t the question now be how best to harden todays systems? True, there were numerous outages that could be traced back to the networks themselves but when you measure application availability, these too count and systems should be better engineered to recover or at least work around, all situations. It’s no good going fast for just one or two laps when it’s an endurance race – speed always plays second fiddle to reliability.

Inserting NonStop systems into hybrid configurations certainly is one way to address the problem and with plans for NonStop to support the Intel x86 architecture, those businesses committed to only running x86 solutions have little left to complain about. NonStop as a pure software play, as it shortly will become, should be a no-brainer for many of these businesses and with its lengthy history working with stock exchanges worldwide, the opportunity for NonStop to add value in new and innovative ways utilizing hybrid configurations seems a rather obvious choice.

If you accept that speed is of paramount importance to stock exchanges, and handling enormous transaction volumes at blinding speeds key to their survival, it would seem logical to consider the order processing system to be partially handled by a plethora of optimized front-end processors. But then again, in this fast moving environment, could NonStop – even on the x86 architecture – keep up? Again, it would depend upon the overall design and the middleware chosen, but there are steps that can be taken to reinstate the viability of NonStop and it’s something I know several sales folks at NonStop are seriously considering.

In case you missed it, for the first time that I can recall, questions are now being asked about the true value of high-speed trading and whether there is a level playing field. Early reports now becoming available suggest it is anything but a level playing field and yet, I suspect that we cannot turn the clock back when it comes to speed. However, as CNBC television reported in a post of June 30, 2014, Wall Street’s diminishing need for speed, “Speed has created a world of "haves" and "have-nots" in the investing world.” 

Furthermore, aside from potential moves being taken by regulatory agencies, CNBC left it to Intercontinental Exchange Founder and CEO Jeff Sprecher to state the rather obvious, “I think at some point, it's not that important for us to make speed decisions that you and I can't comprehend, so I actually think we've reached, in a weird way, the limit of speed.”

Adding to this sentiment, according to CNBC, “Others argue that the focus shouldn't be on the absolute or even relative levels of speed. Nasdaq OMX CEO Bob Greifeld said the market is more concerned about reliability in the markets … As markets evolve over the next 25 years, there's no doubt that things will continue to get faster, and more complex, but perhaps not as much as one might think. There may come a point where a certain level of fast is simply fast enough, and that time may not be too far off in the distance.”

Could this be the news NonStop sales folks have been waiting to hear for some time? The focus on speed will taper off as interest refocuses on reliability and perhaps even simplicity and with so much discussion about hybrid computers occurring today, could there be a future for NonStop inside Stock Exchanges? Would it be unimaginable for a systems integrator to assemble their own rack or tower where a couple of NonStop processors resided simply to oversee the availability of the entire system and to hold onto that vital data crucial to ensuring trading systems achieve the level of reliability traders now expect?

Furthermore, could you even sell NonStop in this manner and mask its very presence in the hybrid configuration? OmniPayments, Inc. CEO Yash Kapadia is already doing something very similar for financial institutions. Yash equips a tower made up of racks with not just NonStop but a couple of Attala security modules as well as a number of ProLiant boxes running Windows and Linux. According to Yash, “Even after four decades of being in the marketplace, there’s still some residual hesitancy over the presence of NonStop in any proposed solution, and this just takes any conversations about NonStop out of the equation entirely!”

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to conceive of something similar being done in support of the world’s stock exchanges. Perhaps not the world’s biggest but certainly in marketplaces apart from New York and London. NonStop still has a presence in Asia and in South America so perhaps the hybrid computer approach will first appear in these markets. No matter where it takes off, or who are among the early adopters, with NonStop in hybrid configurations it’s easy to agree with Motor Trend’s MacKenzie that yes, when we look back at 2014, we’ll all agree that “it was the year ‘hybrid’ became the new fast.”