Sunday, March 11, 2018

Our strategy for new applications is to build and deploy off-premise!

It is becoming all too clear. For the NonStop user the world is changing rapidly as we move to hybrid IT and look to a virtualized NonStop. Where will find the help we will more than likely need?

Only this week I was visiting our new off-premise storage facility where we are now storing vehicles we can no longer accommodate on-premise, at our home. The company command center – yes, our faithful RV that many of you have seen at recent RUG events, our motorcycle, our trailer and even our fifteen year old Corvette “track toy!” It is not a cavernous storage facility by any means but it does come heated and with a number of different power outlets including one 30amp circuit which should be enough to keep the command center’s refrigerator working and the drinks chilled. Now, all we need is a couple of chairs and we have a new weekend retreat! Well, perhaps not …

Fortunately it is all rather simple and we don’t need to have someone present looking after the facility. There is a management company lurking somewhere in the background that watches over the site, but to have someone on hand to consult when it comes to what more we can push off-premise well, that too is fortunately another instance of, perhaps not. In today’s world where we live, work and relax, there are so many instances where you do need to reach out for a helping hand. That it’s as if we are being viewed as totally helpless and yet, if something needs work to be done, I still call for assistance whether it’s a leaking faucet, a misbehaving HVAC or yes, the tires need replacing on the car. As the television commercial promises, “we have people!”

I came across a link this week that took me to the site of and to a Q&A about IT and Business Strategy. DXC having been created late last year with the merger of CSC and the Enterprise Services business of Hewlett Packard Enterprise. You may have seen this link to too as it was being promoted on LinkedIn. “Moving applications to the cloud requires a sound strategy that takes into account technology issues, business needs and embedded IP. Assess your organization’s readiness level and ability to take on this important work …” The topic of cloud always grabs my attention and when it comes to IT and to the data center, there is nothing more topical than cloud computing when it comes to off-premise offloading of both processes and data.

The link on the page took me to a self-assessment page where the first question stopped me from going any further, “How much has cloud affected your IT and business strategies?” For the NonStop community this is currently the topic that is most hotly being debated leading to us all asking the question, “How much has cloud affected my NonStop deployment strategy?” And by this, with options to run on x86 servers, either from HPE (as NonStop X) or third parties (as virtualized NonStop – vNS) with the option to run essentially on-premise as a private cloud or off-premise co-located on a public cloud?

When asked the question above, “How much has cloud affected your IT and business strategies?” you could say you were pursuing a position of leadership by, “using cloud to create new digital business opportunities to better serve customers and to improve employee efficiency and effectiveness.” Or, you could back away from this just a little and say that your, “apps strategy is to build all applications on cloud (such as Cloud native, PaaS, SaaS). Perhaps it was more a case of you “provide cloud services, and you have made cloud a key element for many of our applications and solution architectures.” To be honest, for many members of the NonStop user community I think the correct answer may be, “We don't have a cloud strategy. IT doesn't support cloud. Use of cloud is up to the requestor.”

It is this last observation that truly raises that all-important question – do we need help? Or, put another way, do “we have people?” I may not need a facility manager to help my off-premise storing of vehicles but when it comes to IT and NonStop, from where I sit there is a very strong argument to be made that sure as heck, we do! Language aside, irrespective of the resources available from HPE, any discussions of NonStop, clouds and IT and business strategy leads me to believe that we will be seeing the birth of a rejuvenated managed services ecosystem in the very near future.

And with this still fresh in my mind, I went to TCM’s Daniel Craig for his impression on the options the HPE NonStop development team is providing today. “TCM is very keen to explore the space that is being created by HPE's NonStop development: vNS, Hybrid, DBaaS etc. We have been working towards a NonStop-as-a-Service solution for some time now and we are confident that very soon we will have the right blend of technology and willing users to make this a reality.” When questioned further about vNS, Daniel said that, “Commercially we've held many discussions, but more from hypothetical than practical viewpoint. It seems a lot of Customers, especially those not already setup for private-cloud operations, are holding off to see what HPE is going to do in this space. Certainly the L-Series release with support of vNS with VMware has TCM's attention as we suspect that this may be a more readily deployable solution for most NonStop users.”

TCM is a provider of managed services and was the first to enter this market targeting the NonStop community. Now TCM is the largest managed services provider in the EU, having pioneered NonStop service solutions where mission critical systems and the solutions it supports were of paramount importance to the enterprise. It is only natural then that TCM is anticipating seeing even more business headed its way as TCM definitely can say, “we have people!” and the HPE NonStop team is continuing to advocate to users that they better be well-educated in all things virtual before they begin pursuing a vNS deployment in their data center.

However, the cloud continues to loom large for even the most ardent supporter of NonStop. Whether you follow the path established by HPE IT department with NonStop at the head of their operations serving up NonStop SQL to all and sundry on the basis of DBaaS or simply look to go off-premise and to a side running a combination of x86 servers with VMware as the hypervisor, the challenge remains. Where is the expertise coming from and how do you imagine recruiting the staff knowledgeable in both VM and NonStop? TCM will be the first to acknowledge that this will be a challenge for most enterprises, but it is also quick to highlight that this is precisely the area where TCM is investing today!

“Let’s just look at what we have done in Scandinavia and at the investment we have already made,” said Daniel. “TCM has just taken over from DXC in providing services to their former Scandinavian clients. It has been a lot of work but the TCM team, DXC's staff and the Customers have all been extremely professional, making it all the easier to pull off without a hitch. Great collaboration and teamwork all round!” Furthermore, and with this in mind, Daniel wrote of how, “It has also been a good opportunity for us to try out something new from a services perspective. For the last few years we have been concentrating on our cloud-based services via our Centre of Excellence. Indeed, this was how we first began providing service into DXC (CSC at the time). It is now all working out incredibly well and harkens back to TCM's willingness to adapt, try new things and remain flexible - basically whatever best suits the NonStop user. Yes, we certainly do have people!”  

Whether it has become your strategy for new applications to be built and deployed off-premise and in the cloud, it really is only a case of rethinking your NonStop solution as being just another virtualized workload. Running on the L-Series operating system, it can run anywhere there are x86 servers, some Ethernet deployment (capable of supporting RoCE), and a hypervisor including KVM and now, VMware. I fully anticipate NonStop users to first deploy on-premise and with the help of managed service providers like TCM, gain knowledge of what it takes to successfully deploy NonStop with the same fault tolerance as is supports today running on NonStop X, and then look at the business benefits of moving a lot or perhaps just a little to an off-premise public cloud. And if this is indeed your goal, then perhaps it is time to have the people and the way forward may very well lead you to folks like TCM. You need people? Sure do! Then we can help you – “Just give us a call,” said TCM’s Daniel.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

New leadership; more wins and yes, all’s well for NonStop!

HPE produces financial results that encourage the financial community; other communities take note – when it comes to mission critical servers, NonStop continues to excel!

I know there are still a number of months that need to pass by before we all start making our plans to attend HPE Discover 2018. It will be held, yet again, in Las Vegas and will run from June 19 to June 20. According to the advance promotion of the event, it will showcase just how best to, “Simplify Hybrid IT, innovate at the Intelligent Edge and bring it all together with HPE Pointnext services. Explore new, powerful methods of handling your data. Learn how to take advantage of the next big idea, seize the next new business opportunity and leapfrog the competition.”

For the past couple of years I have been a guest of HPE, representing Mission Critical Systems and NonStop Systems, as an independent blogger and part of the group that HPE calls the “influencers” – and yes, a huge thank you to HPE for including me in the program! HPE has to be congratulated for reaching out to folks like me and including someone from NonStop as part of the twenty-plus such influencers they bring together for these HPE “big-tent” occasions. Collectively, we represent every facet of HPE within IT and as part of the program HPE ensures all influencers are treated to separate “coffee talks” by HPE’s senior management. Of course, there is always the photo opportunity and at last year’s HPE Discover in Las Vegas, the guest HPE executive the HPE team brought along just happened to be then newly-named HPE President, Antonio Neri.
In case you haven’t been following the news; HPE released its financial results for the first quarter of its financial year and, under the leadership of Antonio Neri, the company surprised the market. This was followed almost immediately by an uptick in the stock price of HPE, further improving its market capitalization. After all the spin-mergers, movement of staff and restructuring, having a technology leader in charge of HPE, once again, these results suggests that perhaps the stars are beginning to align for HPE.

Combine these results for Q1 with the recent news of the big win for
HPE’s supercomputer with US agencies and the launch of a COTS server into space, and HPE looks to be reasserting itself as an industry leader. And by this, I mean, the technology originating at HPE has always been superb, but penetrating the marketplace hasn’t always been a good reflection on the development work being done by development teams. No, it hasn’t been smooth sailing for HPE over the past two years but now, with just one quarter completed, it’s beginning to look a whole lot better.

So, what were the figures and why should the NonStop community take notice? HPE never showcases financial results for individual product lines but the good news here is that when it comes to Servers and Networking, both did a whole lot better this quarter. However, before getting into the meat of what HPE conveyed to the investor community on their
Q1 2018 Results - Earnings Call, it is important to remind ourselves that NonStop is on a journey.

One that will take it down two roads – a continuation of NonStop as usual, with system upgrades plotted on a product roadmap that shows no indication of ending any time soon, and the beginning of a virtualized NonStop (vNS) that in time will be an option within the hyper converge roadmap. Becoming another virtual workload, solutions developed for NonStop and supported by the L-Series operating system can opt to go down either path and this represents a whole raft of new opportunities for NonStop, not the least being able to address SMB with solutions running on managed and public clouds.

The first item that caught my attention on the earnings call was the top line figure. As Tim Stonesifer, HPE EVP and CFO, noted on the call, Total revenue for the quarter was $7.7 billion, up 11% year-over-year and 9% in constant currency.” A little later he then said, “By region, HPE’s performance in the Americas continue to improve, growing 3% with strength in core compute and campus switching combined with a recovery in the organic storage results. Revenue in Europe was even stronger, up 11% in constant currency, driven by an acceleration in core compute and storage with double-digit growth in Germany and Scandinavia. Asia-Pacific grew almost 20% in constant currency, delivering solid core server revenue with double-digit growth in Japan, China and Australia.”

I have highlighted the references to both core compute and core server as this is truly the center of HPE’s product portfolio as everything else are more or less satellite products circling around this core. There are customers of Aruba networking products just as there are customers of 3PAR storage where HPE has no core compute presence, but in general, core compute continues to be the engine driving HPE forward and part of the core compute is core server that includes NonStop. And for the NonStop community, any time there are “new logos” added to the NonStop user base it is cause for celebration. Last year we heard that there were more than a dozen such new logos and looking ahead to what we can expect to see this year, I am hopeful that this number climbs to twenty plus new logos.

Returning to the earnings call, Antonio Neri talked more about core compute, telling the audience of financial analysts how, “In compute, revenue grew 11% year-over-year, driven by growth in core ISS, High Performance Computer, Hyper Converge and Synergy.” Furthermore, “In datacenter networking, revenue grew 27% year-over-year, driven by strong execution within our install base. Our differentiator in Hybrid IT is our software defined services led approach, which helps customers navigate through the transformation challenges.”

At some point, with the work that has been done to support vNS, I see no reason why virtualized NonStop workloads will not be supported by Synergy. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself and I have been cautioned about appearing too optimistic, but the truth is that with Synergy, there is tremendous scale-up opportunities whereas NonStop, as we know so well, is master of the scale-out architecture. But from where I sit, any enterprise that deploys large-scale Synergy chassis / servers will have room enough to spare for virtualized NonStop workloads to leverage the many physical servers in the Synergy chassis.

And my point here is that from just a single piece of glass, managing operations may be a whole lot simpler with everything out there running on racks of servers as this or that workload! Of course, why wouldn’t you prefer to provision a vNS environment in support of your most important applications – those mission-critical, real-time, transaction processing solutions!

Perhaps most insightful of all in the earnings call were the comments made by Antonio Neri when at one point, he took time to explain to the financial analysts how, “As you know, we have defined our strategy, built our portfolio based on the market disruptions we’re all experiencing, driven by the digital transformation and the resulting explosion of applications and data. At HP, we help our customers extract critical insights from their data to accelerate business outcomes. We enable our customers to harvest, store and analyze the critical data that improves customer experiences, drive new business models and increases employee productivity.”

When it comes to helping their customers extract critical insights, in my conversations with Ric Lewis, HPE
Senior VP / GM, Software Defined & Cloud Group, during his coffee talk at HPE Discover 2018 Madrid, he reiterated that when it comes to data analytics, HPE would be turning to the partners for support. I find this response extremely encouraging as the more HPE drives its core compute / core servers programs, the better they will be to channel their energy into partnerships for other components than trying to go it alone and play catch-up. That isn’t to say that at some point HPE will not make an investment or acquisition in this space, but for the time being, I see this as being a further example that times are a changing within HPE – and for the positive!

Perhaps the most important aspect of the information coming from HPE as it wraps up its first quarter under new leadership is that HPE does have a vision and is executing to a strategy. HPE executives have said it many times and I think the message is now being understood by financial analysts and the IT industry – empower the edge, IoT and simply the transformation to hybrid IT. It may be a stretch but for those who have been around NonStop for many years, there is an appreciation that NonStop can definitely play a significant role within hybrid IT and given the right situation, even at the edge.

After all, it was Gartner that suggested the edge would eat the cloud, a reference to the eventual demise of the data center and yet another stretch, but worth considering all the same. Yes, a big edge will be as big a target for NonStop in time as the cloud, but at least, we have in NonStop and vNS options and the NonStop community relishes being given a choice!

HPE Discover 2018, Las Vegas, is now four months away and I am thinking about what we can expect to see from HPE. I have already made it known to those sorting out the program that I would like to see more references to how HPE compute is being used in the real world, going so far as to suggest setting up an aisle in the “transformation zone” showcasing real customers with real applications running on select products from the HPE product portfolio – including NonStop.

It has been good to see NonStop at the center of Blockchain / DLT demonstrations – excelling at what it does best; transactions leveraging NonStop SQL- and as pleased as I was to see its presence, I want to see even more! So, who knows – maybe we will see a greater presence of the “applied HPE” as we do the “pure (technology-centric) HPE” we see today.

By June, we should have seen results for Q2, 2018, and like many of those I have talked to over the past couple of days, I am hopeful that momentum continues for HPE. Just as importantly, I am hopeful too that momentum continues for NonStop. I am often asked whether we have seen acceptance of NonStop having turned a corner and whether the plans many current NonStop users have for migrating to other systems have lessened of late and while I don’t have access to real numbers, anecdotally I sense we have turned that corner with NonStop.

But if you really want to see the full picture then make sure you plan on attending HPE Discover 2018 and perhaps we will both get the opportunity to hear the full story for ourselves! Until then, let’s just all sit back and appreciate just how well HPE has performed out of the gate under the leadership of its new CEO, Antonio Neri!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Feeling secure? It could be the way we walk that secures future transactions …

Who knew? Computers will be watching and learning more about us in order to satisfy themselves that yes, it really is us initiating a transaction and for HPE and NonStop, this is heralding the age of analytics and AI!

Back on land, after a short voyage back and forth between Long Beach and Hawaii, despite all the steps we took to mitigate interaction with fellow passengers, I managed to catch the dreadful flu that was going around and not only did I catch it, but passed it on to Margo. If you haven’t been keeping up with my Facebook, twitter and blog posts this may be news to you, but even as I am now close to good again, Margo still has a few days to go.

Of course, we avoided the buffet lines, rarely ventured into the public eat-anytime dining rooms and essentially, ate at the specialty restaurants even as we stuck to one cafĂ© and one bar. All good, but no matter what steps we took clearly they weren’t enough! On the other hand, none of this proved to be a distraction to spending time at sea, a pastime for me that remain my favorite way to relax. As for the casino well, and the ease with which the cruise line can empty your account, I stayed well clear of that deck as distracting as it appeared to be for many of my fellow travelers!  

These days we are all being forced to take steps to protect ourselves whether it has to do with getting ill, having our financial situation compromised or perhaps much worse, our digital footprint hijacked. So many new words have entered the language of late – reverse this and reverse that and shame this and shame that – it’s almost as if not only have we let the genie out of the bottle, as we so thoroughly evangelized the internet, but given the genie the keys to practically everything we thought we had hid safely under the bed!

And don’t get me started on malware or ransomware … safe to say, despite the best intentions of government agencies and big institutions, we are pretty much on our own! While I am not advocating we all build fortress-homes, it is a safe assumption that barely a week goes by when we don’t think about the downside of always-on, always-connected!

A short time ago, seated in a piano bar in Las Vegas, rather than charging the last round of drinks to the hotel room a client elected to hand over his credit card. Returning to his room, he received a call from his bank asking whether he really did purchase two one-way tickets to the Middle East? Running a large business as he was doing, cancelling the card meant spending a week dealing with subcontractors and suppliers to unwind any dependency on the card. No harm was done, but there was no reimbursement for him and his staff to devote that week to sorting it all out. As for me, yes, I have left my card at the cash register a couple of times but to date, no harm has befallen me.

This past week, the ATM Industry Association has been holding its US Conference in Las Vegas. If you have not missed the promotional emails that came out in support of this event, you may have seen how there were a handful of NonStop vendors supporting the event even as there were many NonStop users among the crowd that showed up. ESQ and Paragon were exhibiting and OmniPayments stole the show with a coffee session Yash threw for all attendees.

There was ample opportunity for the attendees to hear about NonStop and for me, it is a bit of a shame that HPE doesn’t do a better job of supporting this event, as the NonStop users in attendance were the cream of the crop, so as to speak! I assume I would be on safe ground to suggest that there is so much more that HPE could do when it comes to marketing that benefits the NonStop, after all, marketing is all about creating an environment in which to sell not to mention, as champions of NonStop, communicating the value of NonStop. And on very friendly turf, I might add!

Even though I missed this event because of the flu, what I really wanted to hear was the keynote presentation by Theresa Payton, Former White House CIO & Cybersecurity Authority, who is now starring on CBS's New TV Show, "Hunted". Last year, the keynote speaker was Herman Edwards a former NFL coach and ESPN analyst who was returning to the ranks of coaching. More telling was his presentation “Doing the little things and executing vision.” The common thread here was that Edwards took time to explain that he is resorting to cash simply because it is a budgeting tool. When he runs out of cash for the week he is done.

But he also reminded us that like me, having cash in his wallet gave him comfort and security. No third party to get into his card accounts if he didn’t have his cards on him. While I wasn’t able to hear Payton’s keynote this year I am sure there will be members of the NonStop community only too happy to fill me in on what was said, but the credentials alone suggest it was bound to be about security!

We may be pretty much on our own when it comes to securing our own presence in the world, be that financial or social. However, when it comes to our systems and the applications they support, I have misgivings about a lot of the security steps being promoted. Sure, nothing that ends up in storage should be in the clear, but in time, I see this as being more a hardware opportunity than anything to do with software – if it is in software, well then it can be compromised at some point given access to enough compute power. And just as importantly, nothing going into the ether should be in the clear when it comes to our personnel information but that too is more a case of leaving it to the hardware. Software handling such sensitive issues is a non-starter for me, except when it comes to some of the more advanced work being done directing analytics and AI at the problem.

What it all comes down to, according to Gartner, is ensuring we truly understand who it is at the other end of the line and that means developing a “360-degree customer view!” The more you know about your customer the more you can then detect variances where you can challenge the party on the other end of the line.

As Jim Marous, Co-Publisher of The Financial Brand and Owner/Publisher of the Digital Banking Report, suggested in a post of February 6, 2018,
Data-Savvy Banking Organizations Will Destroy Everyone Else, “when an identity assertion on a web portal is suspect, corroborate the identity of the customer via mobile push to confirm that he or she is in possession of a previously enrolled device. Also, capture location and other signals, to check additional passive behavioral biometric traits (e.g., gait, gestures and handling), or to exploit native or third-party active biometric modes (e.g., fingerprint, face or voice).”

I particularly like the reference to gait as this implies we track and record the way our customers approach an ATM or POS device each and every time and implies there is a substantial amount of analytics going on behind the scenes. To this end, I am even more impressed these days with what the Striim team has been up to – if you missed it, their web site page, Enterprise Securitymakes an interesting read. “With the increase in cyberattacks, both in number of incidents and complexity, protecting intellectual property and business data against internal and external threats is a top concern. Striim delivers a fast and customized data security solution that transcends single-point solutions to analyze multiple sources and domains in real time.” And when it comes to real world deployment, Striim has turned its powerful streaming analytics engine onto handling complex scenarios just as Jim Marous suggested in his post.

While I am a little wary of the claims of some security products and of the many such offerings that find their way onto systems including NonStop, analytics is key and this is where Striim has scored a direct hit with one of the largest issues of plastic on the planet. “When its existing 50+ security solutions resulted in a flood of alerts and false positives, the leading credit card network turned to Striim to increase alert accuracy with more sophisticated rules, and improve the security team’s understanding of the alerts generated. Striim ingests and joins security devices’ log and session data files in (Apache) AVRO format, representing every security-related event from 50+ siloed security applications. With multi-log correlation and advanced pattern matching capabilities, their Striim application accurately and immediately detects data security breaches and attacks.” 

While we do need to take steps to protect ourselves and do as much as we can to protect our systems from compromise, adding layer after layer of software to help ward off unwanted guests may not be sustainable over the long haul. All the silos in the world can’t pack together tight enough to ward off serious intrusions – there will always be a gap or two! Improved hardware is definitely going to play a role and I know that HPE is across this. But when you dig a little deeper, the question of security isn’t so much a question of which software to use but rather what degree of intelligence you apply to the problem and here I see analytics and AI having an opportunity to address a rapidly expanding marketplace.

As for me, the next time I saunter over to an ATM, I have to wonder, with each step I take, is it keeping an eye out for the gestures I make and the nature of my gait? Makes you wonder, doesn’t it! Then again, there is some comfort to be gained knowing that it is just me and nobody else that has access to my information, accounts and yes, cash.  

Sunday, February 4, 2018

As new NonStop products continue to be unveiled we all need access to services providers!

As often as we hear, “open to the elements” and we cringe, for NonStop users, open is a good thing – but it’s even better with help from service providers …

Well, the weather isn’t doing us any favors even if it is nowhere as bad as what we are looking at for the US Mid-West and East Coast It’s SuperBowl Sunday and with the venue being Minneapolis it’s safe to say it’s really, really, cold. Thank goodness the venue will be inside a dome, but just making the trek from car to stadium will be a challenge for many. Forecasters are telling their audiences that frostbite will set in within 30 minutes so spectators will need to be careful. And yet, it is football after all and many a time we have seen games played in atrocious conditions inside of stadiums open to the elements.

We want to be close to the action sometimes and feel as though we are truly involved in the game, but there are limits after all. On the other hand, more clubs are spending the billion dollars it takes to build a temperature controlled dome where the luxury boxes truly shield well-heeled folks from all that could mess with making sure they can pursue fine-dining even as the contestants belt each other into submission. Oh well, it’s only a game, but somehow there is a certain logic behind naming some playing fields colosseums.

Open to the elements; atrocious conditions, bordering on hostile no matter the temperature and all the while, working hard to improve services when it comes to food and drink and even the speed with which spectators can find their seats it continues to be all about the customer experience. It’s all happening at the stadium even as it is all happening for the NonStop user, even as it is a simple reminder of all the moving parts that make up a mission-critical application. Oftentimes, it is the combination of products and services that lead to success when it comes to that all-important moment when you interact with a customer.

I was first introduced to the game during my Universities “orientation week” during the Australian Summer of ’69. It was a replay, of course, but it was SuperBowl III, made famous by the “guarantee of victory” given by the Jet’s quarterback, Joe Namath. As this replay of SuperBowl III was being played in an air-conditioned theatrette, it was only natural to head on in as the temperatures out on the campus had passed well beyond 100 degrees. Since that time, I haven’t missed all that many SuperBowls even as any room with air conditioning has continued to prove attractive to me through the years. Indeed, as it has been reported elsewhere, upon arrival for my cadetship with the steelworks, I opted for EDP / MIS as the computers mandated an air-conditioned environment and a steelworks, in Australia, in summer wasn’t for everyone.  

Open to the elements? Even as I wrote the observation above, it reminded me of just how open to the elements our networks have become. For the NonStop community, there has always been something that needed to be “plugged in”, whether it was a network being terminated at a NonStop System or the NonStop System itself plugging into other systems within the data center. It mattered little over time as network protocols morphed to where they were similar with “what’s your IP address”, the only request we would make. But how much access to do we have with experts in just how to pull this all together?

While networks have been a focus of mine for quite a long time now, our systems too have become open. There is so much talk of late about REST and JSON and even node.js and serverside Java script. Applications have become a sequence of microservices and all those we connect to want to know what are the APIs and how best to use them. I thought providing a WSDL was all that would be required to support modern application deployments but the momentum behind WSDL proved short-lived. As for SOA / Web services, they too will be carrying that dreaded legacy label very shortly. But who do we turn to for expertise in these areas and about creating new applications?

With the SuperBowl a topic of many conversations this weekend even as it is a time to celebrate with family and friends, it also represents the very pinnacle of the game of American football or gridiron or simply the NFL. Scattered around the playing field are the best athletes the sport generates, each playing a unique position such that the very idea that “playing football” oftentimes can be oxymoronic.  Some play on the offense while others play on the defense even as others play on something coaches call special teams. Every position, either side of the ball, is labelled differently and calls for specialized skills so much so that teams have positional coaches for every position played. Unfortunately, IT is seeing increased specialization even as those involved have little by way of coaching staff to turn to and for the NonStop community, this is becoming a serious concern for every NonStop stakeholder.

HPE had its services offerings. but they were spun off and the services group they kept, what HPE now calls PointNext, has much bigger issues to address – simplifying hybrid IT, empowering the edge, etc. We have read all the messaging and seen the presentations but NonStop doesn’t quite fit the mold, at least, not yet. Even as NonStop pushes ahead with programs that make it easier to participate in today’s open world, the unfortunate paradox is that it requires specialists to properly set-up NonStop in order to make this happy. And into this environment, HPE has added yet one more parameter demanding specialist skills – running NonStop applications as virtualized NonStop workloads. Ouch!

Talking with TCM Solutions, Daniel Craig, he reminded me of how, “We all know of the spin-merge actions of HPE last year but even as these included the spin-merge of their former HPE Services group, together with the creation of a more specialized, HPE-focused services group, PointNext – formerly the Enterprise Group’s Technology Services – when it comes to NonStop there are numerous gaps that are just not being addressed by HPE.” In other words, according to Craig, “These gaps will likely present issues for some NonStop users – particularly those contemplating the move to virtualized NonStop – but at TCM we see them as opportunities for the NonStop vendor community to step up and provide expertise that otherwise may not be available to every NonStop user.

Yes, opportunities, according to Craig. For those in the managed services business, it has become clear that the need for specialist players and even coaches, is becoming paramount across the NonStop community. The above quotes appeared in a post of January 28, 2018, to the LinkedIn blog, Pulse and if you missed reading the complete post when it came out, you can follow this link:
Services, not just products - NonStop continues to push deeper into the data center.

The SuperBowl is probably over – yes, we are recording it just to see the advertisements, as living in America, there is no way we will miss hearing about who won. Open to the elements – how often do we hear this expression used in situations where bad news was about to be delivered. For the NonStop community it seems as though we have been exposed to the elements for a very long time and made the necessary adjustments. And yet, even as we expect to add even more “new logos” to the NonStop community, there is much more to be done when it comes to providing access to experienced NonStop professionals.

It isn’t so much a request for a cushy air-conditioned dome with great food being provided, but rather, a growing demand for experts who can help us make the jump required to the types of mission-critical operations we fully expect to see emerge in the next year or so. Fortunately, there are managed service providers stepping up who can really help us, no matter what position we play and for that, the NonStop community is well positioned.       

“And for TCM, this is all very positive,” added Craig. “We believe we are well-placed to provide the level of managed services due to our twenty plus year track record of designing and delivering managed services.” Whether it is traditional NonStop or even the new virtualized NonStop, it is still all about implementing and running mission-critical applications, and said Craig, “We are experts in NonStop and in how to build and run a secure, safe NonStop service and we expect to see many companies looking to us to guide them through this very important transition to the new, fully virtualized, world of NonStop!”

All I can add at this time of night is that well, it's time to fly like an eagle! 

Friday, January 26, 2018

Las Vegas once again and yes, it is the annual ATMIA event – will you be watching what happens?

The installation of a RING doorbell made it a lot easier to see who’s at the door. When it comes to detecting movement across an industry, wouldn’t it be nice to have a RING for NonStop!

As we slowly put the holiday season behind us, with all the gifts unwrapped  as is so often the case at times like this, one gift stood out for us more than any other. Maybe it was the surprise the gift generated or simply the relevance of it – either way, we ended up being very thankful for the gift. This time, it turned out to be the gift from our daughter – a RING digital doorbell. On her visit to our new home she was surprised to see our door did not have a glass panel or even a peep hole so there was no way we could tell who was at the door. We have now had the RING installed and we loaded the app to both of our smartphones and we simply don’t know how we lived without the RING!

Like many of you, we suspect, we overdid it this year with our online shopping. It was just so easy to do and for us, the timing was such that for all sakes and purposes, it was simply an extension of what we had been doing for the past couple of months buying furniture and furnishings for our new home. Whether it was a new rug for the living room, a box full of vital supplies to be loaded to our pantry or even a set of tires, they all arrived on our doorstep and in many ways, online shopping became our new addiction. It was just so easy to shop from our kitchen and the inventory we perused appeared infinite to us. As for the RING device, no matter where we are, we can see who was at the door and, more importantly, what special delivery awaits us on the other side of the door. 

In a matter of just a few days we will be heading back down to Las Vegas. At this time of year, we will not be taking the company command center as the weather across the Rockies isn’t something you want to tackle in an RV. Even as we still harbor memories from the last time we drove the RV to Las Vegas and lived through a monumental mechanical melt-down that left the RV crippled for more than a month, this time we are hoping for a much better outcome. The reason for our return to Las Vegas is the upcoming ATM Industry Association (ATMIA) US Conference. This will the fifth time in six years that I have made it to the event that has taken us as far afield as Orlando and New Orleans. However, when the topic is ATMs and cash, there is not a place more appropriate for talking about these topics than Las Vegas where cash has always been king! 

Just recently Margo and I were at a venue where our room door key was all we needed to take into the Casino. Just insert the card key into the slot machine, select an amount, and yes, bingo! You were up and running. As the venue had already tied the key to a credit card, as is the case at most venues these days, completing the transaction was all too easy to do. No cash, no wallet, no problem! Your door key will be the only key you need! Cruise ships too have embraced this model t make it a lot easier to spend cash. I am not expecting to have the same option at the hotel we have selected for this conference as it doesn’t have a Casino, but I can see a time coming when all impediments to spending cash in Vegas will be completely eliminated. This feature however may be lost on those attending the conference, but no matter, cash will continue to dominate the agenda and for a very good reason. For many Americans no matter their social standing or where they reside, cash is king!

For the NonStop community it isn’t cash that is king but rather, transactions! No matter the preferred interface, whether it’s being seated in front of a laptop, walking and talking via a smartphone or standing across a counter from a real person, there is no end to the way we carry out transactions and behind all of these transactions, there is almost always going to be a NonStop system. What are the facts these days when it comes to transactions? If you access an ATM then some 70+ percent of all ATM transactions go through at least one NonStop system. If you are standing at a POS then the percentage only drops slightly, to about 60+ percent. Texting on a mobile phone – when it comes to North America, once again, your transaction will hit at least one NonStop system on its way to completion. These are not insignificant data points - remember, too, these NonStop systems have been part of hybrid IT deployments long before cloud computing arrived!

Some readers may see this as a stretch, but from the time we decided to deploy intelligent front-end computers in our data centers we stepped up to running a heterogeneous, hybrid, IT infrastructure. Whether there were IBM, Burroughs or Univac mainframes behind these NonStop systems ATM and POS networks were more readily terminated at a NonStop than any other processor and for good reason. Fault tolerance was just then becoming appreciated, and there was little argument to be made against having a system running 24 x 7 in support of your user access points open 24 x 7. However, so much has changed since that time and yet, there are the NonStop systems still terminating the ATM and POS networks.

The upcoming ATMIA US Conference will see several members of the NonStop vendor community displaying their wares. A quick glance at the exhibition guide tells me that I can expect to see ESQ and Paragon as well as familiar names like Visa and MasterCard together with Pulse and First Data. And yet, among the latest ATM offerings being displayed and the discussions on network security and monitoring, you will hear very little spoken about NonStop even as we all know – it’s NonStop that the majority of financial institutions depend upon. Unless you have a RING app on your smartphone, how can you be expected to see what’s on the other side of almost everything being showcased? After so many years of boosting the significance of commodity solutions, there still are so many transactions passing through NonStop that the absence of any reference to NonStop is rather stunning!

The RING device not only gives us a visual update as to who may be at the door but it also notifies us whenever it detects movement. RING device alerts us when someone is walking up to the door and with as many of us as there were this year worried about the number of “porch pirates” helping themselves to our freshly delivered packages, this has proved to be a god-send. And so it is with the ATMIA US Conference as I look for movement behind the scenes. NonStop today has come a long way since it first entered the scene and even as it has grown in capability in lockstep with the growth in transaction volume and richness, you really do need something special to detect any movement in the market awareness of NonStop.

Hopefully, though, as more and more members of the NonStop community participate in events like this upcoming ATMIA US Conference, we will see an increase in the number of conversations, presentations, forums, etc. where NonStop is featured. As we continue to become even more comfortable shopping online and even more dependent on the infrastructure in support of our transactions, the fault tolerance provided by NonStop systems and the solutions they support will be drawn closer to the spotlight. We may not know of every topic that will be covered and even as we know that there isn’t the equivalent of a RING to alert us whenever something special is delivered, when it comes to the tightly knit ATM community, I have to believe that as cash continues to be king, NonStop will continue to be there, behind the scenes, making sure we can always get our hands on the cash. Whenever that need arises, of course! Ka-ching!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Summer in the Southern Hemisphere means cricket – and there are lessons for the NonStop community!

Someone once told me watching cricket was like watching baseball on Valium. It’s not that bad, really: But there is something to be said about the fervor of each team’s supporters that the NonStop community may want to consider …

For the past couple of months I have spent sleepless nights hunched over my laptop looking at the BBC web site and watching line-by-line updates coming from a cricket match in Australia. It is now summer in the southern hemisphere so that means days spent playing or watching cricket. Not just any cricket matches, mind you, but later-day warfare between two otherwise closest of friends. Whenever the English cricket team tours Australia the ultimate prize is ownership of a very humble urn – the repository of “The Ashes.” Dating back more than a century, following the earliest cricket match between the two countries where England lost, it was The Times that printed a match report in the Obituary column claiming the loss was tantamount to the death of cricket in England.

Equipment used in the match was ceremoniously burnt, the ashes collected and placed in the urn, and the greatest of all trophies has come to symbolize the height of competitiveness between the countries, but of late, each time England tours Australia, they falter and yet again, after five “test matches” over five days each, Australia has captured the urn.  Cricket is a funny game and there is not enough time to explain the many nuances of this game of chess played by flannel fools on a patchwork of brilliant grass but suffice to say, viewers from both sides go to extraordinary lengths to support their team. And nowhere in the world is there a more vocal group of supporters than England’s famous fan base, their Barmy Army!

Reading each line as they appeared on my laptop and relishing every run scored by the Aussies even as I barely had time to make a cup of coffee between the falling wickets of the English, life was as it should be – an English cricket team being skewered under some of the hottest sunshine ever endured by any touring side. Yes, they had to call it quits over at the tennis championship but not so for the cricketers. But the heat haze rising from the center of the pitch gave new meaning to these cricketers being toast! But enough of the cricket as it reminded me of groups and the communities that come together to support a person, team or event.

There was a time when being called a groupie came with nothing but negative connotations as in silly or mindless. A sense of blindly following and indeed adoring someone else whether they be an entertainer, a sports person or even a religious leader. Never anything good ever came out of being a groupie, or so the popular sentiment of the day seemed to believe. However, there are times when belonging to a group is more valuable and that’s where that value comes from information. 

Each time I come away from a major vendor event I am struck by how over the course of just a few days, a sense of community develops even as everyone is only too excited to tell you how to do something completely different, only better! Later in the day, fierce competitors can all be found propping up a bar somewhere exchanging pleasantries as if they knew all along that all of their product lines did much the same thing. And each time they gather there is always an update or two on who now works for whom and where their latest travels had taken them. There is absolutely nothing wrong or out of the ordinary with any of this, save for the fact that they all want your business and by themselves, would readily point out all the weaknesses of the product you may have been considering purchasing just an hour or so earlier from their competitor.

When the events are held by major vendors, like HPE, the audience is keenly attuned to the electricity in the air – if participants sense a developing buzz around the event, the buzz will continue to grow as the event proceeds. However, if the body language of key participants exudes anything but confidence in the future then “all bets are off” with the bars filling more quickly than usual. Whenever HPE Discover events are held and general sessions are about to start, I always pay attention to the music being played and if you haven’t done the same, you may be amused to know that major vendors rarely pay attention to the selection of songs in advance of the event – all they want is something high-octane to get the audience pumped up for the show!

On one occasion, the music selection stunned us all. As I was recalling the titles and quoting lines from the songs, it was very clear someone was having some fun somewhere out there in the darkness of the dimmed rapidly-filling auditorium. Looking back at it all, it was kind of funny to hear: “Wake me up (when it’s all over)” followed by Here's to the damned, to the lost and forgotten; It's hard to get high when you're living on the bottom” and then, “If your lips are moving, then you're lyin', lyin', lyin' …” before closing with, “Well we rushed it, Moving way too fast. That we crushed it, But it's in the past.” When it comes to local events, such as those aimed at the NonStop community there is neither high octane music with catchy lines or opening acts but rather, an almost immediate cut to what attendees want to hear – all the news about NonStop! Nor would I expect that those in attendance would have been mindless about what was being played – they would have caught on quickly!

I have been involved with user groups since well, forever. In 1979 I attended my first ever, IBM Mainframe user group, SHARE, at the time of its Australian foundation, when rules concerning participation had yet to be finalized. But it was my time with ITUG where I really came to appreciate the value of community and where my future path pretty much was determined. Am I NonStop groupie? Am I part of some informal NonStop supporters “army?”  Am I that last man standing at the bar long after “last call” for drinks? Maybe the answers to all of these questions could include maybe, could have happened and yes, could be totally true.

Point is, the history of NonStop and, before that, Tandem Computers, is populated by folks who know and understand the true value of fault tolerant computing and find all other platforms a step backwards.  On FaceBook I am a member of the public group. Tandem Computers. Recently, participants began sharing photos of coffee mugs, clothing and even pins – mementos of their time at the company.

But the one that struck me that came out towards the end of Tandem’s independence as a vendor was the one depicted above: YCDBWYCID. In case you cannot recall what it meant, it simply reminded folks that “You can't do business when your computer is down" … yes, I want to belong to that club? Yes, count me in as a follower! Here’s the thing though – I am neither barmy, nor mindless. And I checked with my wife Margo before writing these words, just to be sure. NonStop today is often being talked about as undergoing significant changes as it transforms to meet the needs of today’s hybrid IT but what hasn’t changed and indeed continues to be its redeeming grace is its undiluted support for fault tolerance. 

You don’t have to necessarily go to FaceBook to read about NonStop or the community. If you subscribe to LinkedIn, for instance, there are many LinkedIn groups that are either industry related or vendor specific and they contain a wealth of information. For the NonStop community there are a lot of choices and no matter which LinkedIn group you are a member of, there will always be a willing contingent of knowledgeable people prepared to answer any question you may have. If it has been a while since you searched through the groups, among the most popular are the Tandem User Group and Connect HPE User Group Community. As for my own tastes, I continue to monitor both Real Time View and yes, of course, Fools for NonStop.

To many cricket may be numbing if not mindless and those that are prepared to spend seven or more hours a day for five days straight watching a test match between countries, a little odd. And yet the game has such fervent followers that it begs the question – would these same people be just as prepared to watch two cockroaches, one from each country, race up a wall? Perhaps not! Enthusiastic, almost evangelical in their fervor but willing to spend time talking about their systems and solutions, the NonStop community remains somewhat unique. Less fickle for sure and more focused, clearly, but this is good news for the NonStop community. There is always a place to turn to for information and there is always someone to call and whether you make it to the more popular big-tent events or not, be assured – the NonStop community will continue as long as they know, YCDBWYCID!   

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The folly that was Tandem Computers and the path that led me to NonStop ...

With the arrival of 2018 I am celebrating thirty years of association with NonStop and before that, Tandem Computers. And yes, a lot has changed but the fundamentals are still very much intact!

The arrival of 2018 has a lot of meaning for me, but perhaps nothing more significant than my journey with Tandem and later NonStop can be traced all the way back to 1988 – yes, some thirty years ago. But I am getting a little ahead of myself and there is much to tell before that eventful year came around. And a lot was happening well before 1988.

For nearly ten years I had really enjoyed working with Nixdorf Computers and before that, with The Computer Software Company (TCSC) out of Richmond Virginia. It was back in 1979 that I first heard about Nixdorf’s interests in acquiring TCSC which they eventually did and in so doing, thrust me headlong into a turbulent period where I was barely at home – flying to meetings after meetings in Europe and the US.

All those years ago there was a widely read publication called Datamation – a publication I swear was written, with some subterfuge, by IBM folks who wanted to communicate details about their projects to the rest of IBM. However, it was the advertisement on the very back page of that magazine that caught my eye – a picture of a Tandem Computer complete with Mackie Diagram showing what a truly fault tolerant system looked like. Datamation was my go to reading material while I flew so each time I stuffed the magazine back into the pocket of the seat in front of me, there was that Tandem advertisement.

So, imagine my surprise when I went to the Hannover Fair for the first time (before technology split from the primary event) only to see being constructed across the aisle from Nixdorf, a rather large exhibition booth housing a team from Tandem Computers. This was back in either 1983 or 1984, I cannot recall exactly. But at the time, fault tolerant computers were getting a lot of attention – IBM was reselling Stratus as their own System/88 and even Olivetti, a fierce rival of Nixdorf, was reselling Stratus.

A short time later and after the Hanover Fair wrapped up, Nixdorf revealed it was working with the New Jersey company building fault tolerant computers - Auragen Computers. The plan was for Nixdorf to rebadge and sell right alongside its other platforms, which at this time included a range of IBM Plug Compatible Mainframes (PCM) called the 8890. However, it didn’t go so well and at one point, it was reported that Nixdorf founder, Heinz Nixdorf, totally frustrated by the progress being made to create a fault tolerant system utilizing Unix, told an audience that the only thing fault tolerant about the system was the sales team!

As I recall those days, I am quite sure thoughts of Tandem were gradually entering my subconscious. But having worked with mainframes for such a long time, my colleagues thought it foolish of me to change course and to them, getting involved with Tandem was sheer folly! Which brings me back to the photo at the top of this post – a double magnum of a 1998 vintage of Lake’s Folly bought for me just as it was released!

It was a wedding present given to me by my wife of only a few weeks, Margo Holen. According to Max Lake, owner of the vineyard, the wine would need another twenty to twenty five years before it could be consumed. You see Max had pursued a highly successful career in medicine but reached a point where he too wanted to change course. As he announced his plans to open a winery, his friends called it foolish so of course, he named his new endeavor, Lake’s Folly!

It was in 1987, when living in Raleigh, North Carolina, where I was working for an SNA networking company Netlink, Inc. that I ran into folks from Tandem – people like Jerry Held, Andy Hall, Jeff Tonkel and Suri Harish. At the time, Tandem was interested in the SNA_Hub product that eventually found its way into the Tandem price book and featured in the Tandem Update publication. It struck me at the time just how innovative Tandem was and how well they were doing pursuing a completely different approach to solving business issues to do with maintaining uptime.

These folks that I came into contact with were Tandem evangelists of the highest order and over an adult beverage or two, Suri convinced me that it was time for me to consider joining Tandem. I couldn’t really do that in 1987 as there were visa issues so, returning to Sydney around this time in 1988, after almost three months of interviews with the local Tandem operation in Australia, I was given an opportunity to work for Tandem out of the Sydney offices.

The journey to Tandem had been circuitous – with stops in Richmond, VA, and Raleigh, NC, together with weeks spent in Germany as well as in Cupertino, CA. But the camaraderie and openness across the entire Tandem organization was unlike anything I had previously experienced.

It wasn’t simply the infamous beer busts or the swimming pool. It wasn’t the creativity behind the Tandem Television Network and the filming of First Friday. It wasn’t even the sight of such a sprawling campus that has now been ploughed under to make way for Apple. What it really came down to where a group of people who simply said that there was a better way to compute and that you could build these better ways to compute where no single point of failure could disrupt the processes - cool! The world could indeed be changed and yes, for a very long time, Tandem changed the world!

Long before Tandem became NonStop, the stars aligned in a way that was unique to the late 1970s – every financial institution wanted to own a network of ATMs but none of them wanted their ATMs directly connected to their mainframes. Traditional front-end-processors weren’t capable of running the software needed for payments processing so essentially, Tandem got its big start in life as an intelligent front-end. And they redefined the world of commercial front-end processing. I saw the impact that made on IT when I was at the Hannover Fair and I read about it so many times in the pages of Datamation.

Looking back at thirty years of association with Tandem and now, NonStop, that little spark of magic that saw the earliest Tandems carve out a niche as an intelligent front-end processor is about to be revisited. And in a way that could prove to have an even bigger impact on the marketplace than simply connecting to ATMs – blockchain. We hear the term “disruptive” so often nowadays that we no longer really react to it. Everything that makes it past the critical reviews of venture capitalists is disruptive in one way or another.

However, NonStop and blockchain is almost like a marriage made in heaven – if the distributed immutable ledger is to anchor commerce in the future, you don’t want to see copies of that ledger off-line for any period of time. True, the architecture really has an element of consensus about it but even so, when the underlying blockchain is used to support just a small finite group of entities – say just two or three nodes – then trust may indeed be jeopardized if it comes down to just two or even one working copy of the ledger.

NonStop with NonStop SQL underpinning blockchain has so much upside the likes of which I haven’t seen in a very long time – but is this just another foolish observation or wish? Is it a return to the days when jumping ship and joining Tandem was considered Buckle’s Folly? The jury will be out on this topic, debating the issue for quite some time, and yet I see all the signs that HPE may just have had good fortune fall right into its lap.

The year has only just begun but somehow, someway, after being around Tandem for thirty years I have a sense that, just as the first use-case scenario featuring blockchain on NonStop is being developed even as I blog – and yes, back down in Sydney as I understand it – a very positive chain reaction is likely to occur. And while I may not be able to track how this all pans out for the next thirty years, at least I will know that sometimes, folly can be a very good thing for not just me but for anyone in the NonStop community!

Happy New Year!    

Friday, December 22, 2017

C’mon; since when did virtualized become the new “Traditional IT?”

Containers certainly transformed the transportation industry and even today, are being re-purposed in interesting ways. But for mission critical solutions running on NonStop, virtualization beats containerization every time!

Moving house and resorting to temporary storage facilities made this past year a time where total disruption prevailed. While there was some anticipation over what was about to become our new home there was still many anxious moments in the lead up to that eventful day. However, the move itself was rather painless and when the van finally showed up, inside were three or four fiberboard containers holding all of our much-treasured belongings. Turned out, as the movers held onto our belongings over the summer it was easier for all parties to simply package everything up into a container to better facilitate the multiple transfers that took place.

You may recall seeing this picture before. That is, the one at the top of the page that features two 40’ containers repurposed as a bar here in Boulder. It follows on from the success enjoyed by another pair of 40’ containers deployed for similar purposes in Estes Park, just a little further up Highway 36. It opened for business even as we were in between homes and over the summer months, there was more than one afternoon when you could have found us astride stools sipping on a local microbrewery libation.

At the time when I referenced these containers I was focused on the message of standardization and you can read about the numerous ways I referenced containers and standardization if you tab to the label container and
click on the link. Through the years, I have referenced containers and standardization in half a dozen posts, but now, more recently, I have turned my attention to containers in the world of technology where so much is being discussed about containers and clouds. In so doing, I have embraced a theme for containers that is up for a lot more discussion than ever there was surrounding standardization.

In recent presentations given by major vendors it is hard to ignore charts depicting traditional IT and virtualized IT inside the one box, as these charts then place containerized IT in another box before labelling other boxes with the names of public clouds. Furthermore, it is the assumption here that containerized IT is all that we will find in private clouds and conversely, private clouds will be created whenever containerized IT is deployed. I guess I have to admit I missed the memo about virtualized IT being legacy.

When I look at how enterprise IT is progressing there is a long way to go before anyone I know inside enterprise IT is going to step up and admit to their CIO that well, yes, we are embracing HyperConverged Infrastructure (HCI) as we virtualize the workloads that, to the outside world, turns out to be a transformation from one legacy environment to another! Ummm …

On the other hand, what I can admit is the PR machines representing the container lobby are working overtime to depict a future based on containerization, but not all applications benefit from containers! I am fully aware as well that not all applications benefit from virtual machines but mission-critical applications we have running on NonStop suggests that the PR underway might be underselling the value of virtualized IT. Just another iteration of legacy or traditional IT? I don’t think so! Whenever you have a middleware approximating what was once called a Transaction Processing Monitor (TP Monitor) such as IBM’s CICS, HPE NonStop’s Pathway that has been renamed, TS/MP, and even Tuxedo then the benefits from embracing virtualized IT quickly becomes apparent.

To the contrary, try to run CICS or Pathway in a container and look to monitor thousands of instances of each - it soon becomes apparent that little is to be gained from containers for this purpose. Likewise, for those running Java and node.js supporting apps on mobile devices then it’s a whole different story. Even if the JAVA JVM sounds like a virtual machine (with an underlying hypervisor) it is better described as containerization as there is no hypervisor involved. 

What hypervisors are very good at is allowing virtual machines to run virtualized workloads each with different OS requirements – yes, you can run a HPE NonStop workload, a Linux workload and even a Windows workload in three different virtual machines and the hypervisor isn’t at all bothered. Not surprisingly, this is what you often encounter within enterprise IT. Hypervisors can run on host machines as they support guest machines where each guest machine includes everything an application may need, including the supporting OS.

Furthermore, hypervisors can run as bare metal hypervisors or as hosted hypervisors and it is the hosted environment that we are encountering more often these days. When it comes to OpenStack / KVM the hypervisor is a hosted hypervisor implementation atop of a Linux kernel. The same can be said about Hyper V as it is yet another hosted hypervisor but this time, atop a Windows kernel.

Point is, containers don’t let you initiate different OSs as part of the container – all containers run atop an OS which, in one sense, makes them a much lighter-weight proposition and, in so doing, have the potential to offer better performance. So yes, there are limitations when it comes to containerization. And yes, when it comes to supporting applications by vendors providing public clouds the preferred way is to support containers as their task becomes simpler, but it’s all a trade-off. HPE has recently added support for HPE NonStop as a virtualized workload. When configured across two or more physical machines, the same level of availability can be achieved as was provided in the past on traditional systems.

However, no such availability profile can be achieved with containers as the requirements for running NonStop in a true 24 x 7 x 365 environment, with NonStop as it is engineered today, cannot be realized no matter how you look at containers. Virtualized NonStop workloads must have access to the NonStop OS and this is only possible when running the complete stack in a guest machine. And yes, those guest machines need to be able to communicate with each other via RDMA over Converged Ethernet (RoCE) which is becoming much easier to find.

In a November 28, 2017, interview published in The Register,
Right, HPE. You've eaten your hyperconverged Simplivity breakfast. Will it blend?  Paul Miller, VP of marketing in its software-defined and cloud group, said, “We see customers wanting to run both virtual machines and containers within their HCI environments.” Equally as important, Miller also highlighted how, “HCI and composable are part of the software-defined infrastructure category. HCI provides simplicity, agility, elasticity, security and predictability for virtualized environments and composable provides the same for bare metal, virtual and containers.”

In other words, when it comes to HPE enterprise customers embracing HCI no longer have to fear their CIOs. HCI and virtualized environments along with composable (and container environments) represent just two sides of the same coin – the move to software-defined everything. And virtualization is definitely not a part of traditional IT, not in the way we have historically viewed running virtual machines.

On September 5, 2017, HPE published a paper,
Comparing composable infrastructure and hyperconverged systems where the authors state that, “‘hyperconverged’ means any hardware solution that uses direct attached storage (DAS) and local compute plus clustering to implement resiliency of processing and data. Virtualization is assumed as the primary means of moving a computing workload from one host platform to another.” No indication here that virtualized IT is part of traditional IT.

In fact, quite the contrary, as HPE portrays virtualization “as the primary means” and this is pulling NonStop into the picture. Any hardware / software infrastructure described as HCI, as long as it is based on the Intel x86 architecture, supports RoCE and where there is a hypervisor present (such as KVM, VMware and potentially, Hyper V), arguably can become a potential target for running future virtualized NonStop workloads.   Returning to the opening observation, it simply isn’t accurate to bundle virtualized IT with traditional IT, suggesting virtualized IT is little more than a variation of traditional IT.

In a world that is giving so much attention to transformation and hybrid IT, HCI, and virtualization, there is a need to recognize the important role both virtualized IT and containerized IT play. Failure to do so will most definitely lead to some spectacular “unintended consequences” as expectations aren’t realized and, quite possibly, lead to escalating hardware costs and manageability uncertainty. Yes, there are reasons to run either virtualized IT or containerized IT.  When the topic of mission critical applications supporting online applications built atop a TP Monitor comes up then CIOs everywhere can relax; virtualized IT is the best option and the news that virtualized NonStop is now coming to market will prove to be good news for all those who continue to demand true 24 x 7 x 365 operation.

Containerization has transformed the freight business. It proved disruptive to the shipping industry even as it disrupted the stevedoring services needed in former times to work the docks. It brought a level of standardization (yes, like everything we touch, there are more than one standard when you look more closely at the container industry), and when it comes to technology, the containers we now reference provide much the same degree of isolation and standardization – you want a truck to carry your container? How about a train or a ship? However, for mission critical online systems where the scale-out is already well addressed, the option for virtualized IT prevails and will do so for many years to come.

And remember, if you still want to run containers than load a virtualized Linux as a guest and run containers atop virtualized anywhere – there really isn’t any limits to either your imagination or creativity / optimization when you have transformed to virtualized IT and with that, the future for virtualized NonStop is assured even as it opens doors to rafts of new solutions coming to its fault tolerant platform!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Slippery slopes facing today’s computers …

When we look closely at NonStop are we indeed treading on a slippery slope when it comes to assigning a role for NonStop? Can the new NonStop satisfy multiple business requirements?

Since my return to Windsor, Colorado, it has been nothing but sunny days. Sure, there was one overnight instance where snow fell, but for Coloradans it was more like icing sugar than real snow. Just a dusting that, by mid-morning, had mostly vanished leaving behind just a few dark damp spots and not much else! It is becoming hard to believe it is winter with Christmas just around the corner and yes, there are still golfers out on the course right next to our home. As our local weather station reported, it’s difficult to tell the seasons apart these days even as we continue to spend afternoon’s outdoors, grilling steaks and drinking beer!

Having spent almost the entire month of November at one vendor event after another, one of the overriding takeaways has been the blurred lines that are beginning to appear. Where once we had very distinct categories of computers and peripherals, and where we knew what their capabilities would be just by their size and indeed, the vendor badge appended to the chassis, this is no longer the case. When you first see the HPE supercomputer that is about to spend a year or more in space, it looks more like a large PC than a “real computer.” On the other hand, open the doors to expose some larger systems and all you see is, well – nothing. Cabinets that are mostly empty space with just one or two racks having anything on them at all, even as the individuals promoting them talk at length about what you can do with so much (compute / storage / networking bandwidth / etc.) capability on hand.

In its annual Car of the Year issue motoring magazine, Motor Trend, began by noting how, “The development pace of semi-autonomous features (is) starting the slow process of disconnecting us from traditional 100 percent human control. It’s a slippery slope that ends in a pile of questions that begs the meaning of what is to be an automobile. Our old friends the sedan, the coupe, the station-wagon and the minivan – the familiar car variants that our mom and dad and their moms and dads have no trouble defining – are in the midst of a major identity crises.”  Two messages stand out here – the disconnection between drivers and their cars and, more importantly perhaps, the identity crises that has arisen as automobile manufacturers cross the lines to produce car variants that are sometimes hard to rationalize. Open their hoods and what’s inside doesn’t really tell you anything about their capabilities on hand.

Let’s start with the disconnection aspect of the message above. When it comes to computers and to more advanced topics like automation and autonomous operation, nothing comes to mind more quickly than the robots we see today among us. While I was attending the HPE Discover event in Madrid, there was a lot of discussion following the release by Boston Dynamics of its humanoid robot, Atlas, doing backflips. According to WIRED magazine, in a November 15th, 2017, article,
BOSTON DYNAMICS' ATLAS ROBOT DOES BACKFLIPS NOW AND IT'S FULL-TILT INSANE, “To be clear: Humanoids aren’t supposed to be able to do this. It's extremely difficult to make a bipedal robot that can move effectively, much less kick off a tumbling routine.”  Furthermore, “Over the years, (Atlas has) grown not only more backflippy but lighter and more dexterous and less prone to fall on its face. Even if it does tumble, it can now get back up on its own.”

All I could come up as my contribution to the discussion was that perhaps we were all witnessing the evolution of American gridiron players. With as many problems as there have been reported about brain damage among the players, what better use of a 6’9” humanoid that can move effectively than to make them the heart of your football team – the offensive and yes, defensive lines! Even with ice hockey, a couple of these as defensive brutes might paint a different picture for some teams. If they lose a limb or worse, a head is knocked off then, no worries, a replacement part can be bolted on to them immediately and send them back out into the fray!

While not on the same page as these hulking humanoids, there were many specialized robots on display at HPE Discover with perhaps the ABB unit solving Rubik’s cube (in very little time) attracting a lot of interest. With very clever “eyes” it was able to view the cube from different angles and so, quite rapidly, do the math required to shift the planes to ensure the colors came out correctly on each surface. ABB and HPE took advantage of HPE Discover to announce the creation of a partnership that had as its goal, providing “actionable insights across industrial plants, cloud and on-premises data centers for higher productivity and innovation.” So, yes be it on the playing field or deep within a factory, the lines between humans and humanoids are clearly becoming blurred.

However, it is the identity crises occurring with computers as we have known them that holds more interest for IT professionals, including those who are members of the NonStop community. For so many years, we all knew what a NonStop system was just by looking at the cabinetry and oftentimes the NonStop badge appended to the side of the system. Then there was the console where simply a brief glance was all that it took for any system manager to recognize that there was a NonStop OS in there somewhere. But today, we are definitely descending a slippery slope when it comes to understanding what NonStop is becoming.

There are still many individuals out there who really do want to return to the workforce in support of NonStop. Time hasn’t been kind to so many of them as for a decade and a half the future of NonStop looked dim. Enterprises stopped investing in NonStop as solutions vendors have sought alternate platforms. However, with the resurgence of NonStop it is no longer the NonStop these individuals recognize and the skillsets demanded of them have become quite different. For NonStop programmers, all you need to know is a development environment like Eclipse in order to write code and when it comes to familiar roles for systems managers well, you better know a whole lot more about hypervisors and virtual machines than you may think as provisioning a NonStop system today with a shared nothing underpinning isn’t for the faint of heart.

No, NonStop is now just software and yes, NonStop is now just one more virtualized workload. As a premier scale-out option for many mission critical applications, the size of the servers it runs on can be anything from just a few processors to a roomful of them – the lines between systems have become so blurred that you really cannot safely say that indeed, NonStop runs here! It may have at one point and it may even return, but the provisioning algorithms have been working overtime to ensure the lowest-cost server option is being exercised in order to meet negotiated SLAs.

This isn’t bad news for NonStop or the community of experienced programmers and systems managers anxious to return to the workforce and to make a contribution. It’s just different and there are new skills to be learnt. But ignoring the opportunities and forsaking further skillset development is a slippery slope of an entirely different kind leading only to the nearest EXIT sign. And from the discussions I have had on several social media forums, nobody that I have talked to is ready to exit the market. Humanoid robots may be able to do summersaults and solve Rubik cube problems and they may even be more effective walking into hostile environments unsuitable to us but they are yet to prove themselves skilled in NonStop.

Few of us in the industry would have missed the most recent news coming from Google. As reported in the November 5, 2017, issue of The New York Times,
Building A.I. That Can Build A.I., “Google may soon find a way to create A.I. technology that can partly take the humans out of building the A.I. systems that many believe are the future of the technology industry.” Well, perhaps they can and perhaps the combination of summersaulting hulks capable of advancing AI will play a big part in our future but that doesn’t detract from the here and now, NonStop still needs a community to support its future growth.

Given all that we have seen and the expectations by HPE for future sales of NonStop – traditional and virtualized - that slippery slope that ends in a pile of questions together with systems indistinguishable from one another, each capable of doing any job we ask of them, simply means NonStop will likely be everywhere. And everywhere is a place I like and it should be well understood, being everywhere will demand everyone to be on hand. So yes, it may very well be hard to tell the seasons and it may be as equally hard to tell where NonStop is running but let that not be a distraction. NonStop not only needs a community to support it, but so does HPE and that isn’t something any of us should ignore!