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!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Big events; big agendas and yes, big news for the NonStop community

HPE is better articulating its message even as it is backing it up with product; NonStop community should be pleased to see the elevated position NonStop now occupies …

As the last days of the month come around I create a folder that I simply name for the coming month together with the current year. So, yes it was only a few days ago that I went to December 2017. Inside the folder I create another folder, Submissions. Yes, each and every month I follow the same process and all because of the desire to create a digital magazine, NonStop Insider. Others have pursued similar goals for a lot longer than I have while others have been more casual with their publication dates. But for Margo and me, it’s always been about pulling the magazine together during the first week so those we work with have a week to upload the content and to add all the necessary heading, links, etc.

I only dwell on this as this month, it has been a very difficult month and for a while I was hypnotized by a completely empty folder. If it wasn’t one thing it was another. There was the NonStop Technical Boot Camp (TBC) and then there was Thanksgiving. For bloggers like me these events just happened to be followed by even bigger distractions like HPE Discover and for someone who doesn’t like to fly any more – flying business or business first can sweeten the deal, of course – it was tiring all the same. With this many sources for new material I thought that there would be a lot to cover but for many of the NonStop vendors, it was also a time for company kick-off events and other worthwhile retreats.

Which is the long way around to say that the December issue of NonStop Insider has been a tough row to hoe! Then again, just as the empty folder looked back at me forlornly, the submissions began to arrive and for sure, the past couple of weeks have proved fertile backdrops for numerous stories. As I create the folder each month I also take time to send out a reminder to the NonStop community that you will find posted to the LinkedIn blog, Pulse, and if you missed the latest post you can read it at:
Now the focus has come back on to my commitments for this month’s issue of NonStop Insider, but that is always a nice problem to face.

However, the back to back events of the past three weeks have really brought a lot of attention to NonStop. If you were to remember just one thing from TBC it had to be the emphasis placed on virtualization. Certainly, existing NonStop users with Itanium-based blade systems will continue to be supported for many years to come, but the reality is beginning to set in that the world for NonStop is virtual. Pulling together the separate threads associated with HPE’s grand mission of simplifying hybrid IT, it really only begins to take shape when virtualization has been achieved. All the new tools associated with clouds and software-defined everything can only be leveraged to the best of their capabilities when directed at virtual worlds.

For NonStop users however, simply getting to virtualization isn’t as easy a task to accomplish as has been other upgrades. The NonStop team has done a fantastic job when it comes to the L-Series operating system such that any application running today on L-Series can run on any underlying systems L-Series supports. And that means a choice of traditional systems as well as virtual machines. When it comes to hypervisors supported by L-Series it was good to hear of the progress made since last the NonStop community had met on support for VMware. While OpenStack and KVM may be options for some NonStop users when it comes to the traditional enterprise marketplace where NonStop has a presence, VMware is the more dominant hypervisor.

However, given how virtualized NonStop runs on systems apart from those provided by the HPE NonStop team  that is, commodity, off-the-shelf (COTS), hardware from any vendor with a system based on x86 and supporting RDMA over Converged Ethernet (RoCE). With those two foundation stones in place, any server can be used and together with the right switches, you can “roll your own” NonStop system. Well, not quite so fast. It’s turning out that it’s not that easy to do and to end up with a system as resilient as one sourced from HPE as a true, out-of-the-box NonStop X system. At TBC we heard for the first time that this situation would be addressed with a third product line being added to the NonStop product portfolio – the Converged Virtualized NonStop system (or as it has been whispered during sneak peeks, a NS 2).

All of this has been covered in commentaries published here and elsewhere but what is coming through loud and clear is that when it comes to bigger messages being articulated by HPE, the NonStop product line isn’t being left out or overlooked. There are plans where NonStop aligns itself more closely with HPE’s key strategic initiatives around simplifying hybrid IT as well as powering the intelligent edge. At polar opposites of the technology spectrum – the center versus the edge – HPE is seeing the rise in popularity of clouds (the center) and IoT / Edge (the outer ring) as places where it can provide value. And as HPE continues to articulate its message in forums around the globe, it’s always about HPE seeing its role in providing high-value solutions – cracking the difficult code pushed aside by other vendors. This too is a further acknowledgment by HPE of its return to its roots. It’s a technology company that once prided itself with the tag line, Invent!

At HPE Discover we heard this message being amplified in ways many within the NonStop community may not have anticipated. Yes, HPE is driving towards virtualization and software-defined everything and the work being done in support of Synergy frames is perhaps the best example as too is the technology implicit with SuperDome Flex. Both Synergy and SuperDome Flex, by the way, are early examples of leveraging the memory-driven compute model as extolled by those working on The Machine. That’s right, The Machine. Evidence was to be found on many of the exhibits of ways The Machine was influencing development of new systems. And now it has it's own logo, visible behind and to the right of HPE Labs Chief Architect, Kirk Bresniker.   

In a joint presentation to the group of bloggers whom HPE had invited to the event (many thanks Becca and Laura), pictured above and labelled by HPE as “influencers,” a representative from the former SGI openly talked about how they think the acquisition of SGI by HPE (and driven by our own former head of NonStop, Randy Meyer) is a match made in heaven. They too were developing hardware in support of memory-driven compute but they didn’t have the resources to address the software side of things. That now has all changed for the former SGI folks and the creation of SuperDome Flex incorporates much of what SGI had been doing in memory-driven compute. Hence the performance gains they are seeing running such things as SAP Hana.

Could future derivatives of Synergy and SuperDome Flex (remembering too that these are primarily Linux boxes capable of supporting KVM and VMware hypervisors) see NonStop finding a new home? This is not part of any product roadmaps today and indeed, as NonStop team’s VP, Andy Bergholz, was quick to highlight, the sweet-spot for these systems is scale-up and not scale-out, so it may be many years before any convergence between NonStop and these platforms occurs. But the fact remains, NonStop remains a core software offering of HPE and as such, will ultimately be an integral part of future new technologies where the memory-driven compute model gradually influences all development programs.

And why not? Today transaction processing isn’t an isolated application and while the scale-out suits the model for transaction processing as we know it today, that is all about to change. Think blockchain and in-memory retention of blocks. Think analytics and in-memory workloads looking at everything arriving at NonStop and yes, mandating analysis of many other data streams from social networks to networked sensors.

And yes, think too of the disruption that will accompany the growing “enrichment of transaction” their value also increases to where running fault tolerant will be the norm and not the exception. Many more advocates of NonStop will appear and don’t rule out just how many of them will come out of HPE itself as already, listening to those presenting blockchain at HPE with little to no background in NonStop have become overnight acolytes!

The December 2017 folder is now filling up nicely and already there are a dozen or so entries in the completed submissions folder. Shortly we will be passing it all over to the good folks at TCM in Scotland for loading and massaging so yes, it’s all very much on track for its regular publishing timeframe of late next week. For the NonStop community the articulation of key messages by HPE over the past couple of weeks is taking hold with its customers and prospects understanding the direction being taken by HPE.

The most recent big-tent marketing event, HPE Discover Madrid, was certainly a success and although translating the messages into deployed solutions will take time, I am now looking forward to this summer’s HPE Discover event, which I encourage as many of you as I can to participate. Hope you can make it as already, I am looking forward to seeing many of you June 18-21, 
2018 at Discover 2018 Las Vegas!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Impressions from Madrid – all to be discovered shortly!

And it is all about to happen - only hours away from the official kick off of this years HPE Discover Madrid event and already, following a brief visit to the venue all I can say with all the chaos going on - it's huge!

This is just an opening paragraph or two as I settle into Madrid after Sunday’s flight – don’t plan on passing through Newark of an afternoon and expect to make connections. Expect delays and book your entry into Newark a flight or two before the one any airline suggests – yes, the eastern corridor from Philly to Boston is a mess as airport traffic controllers back up flight departures all the way to the west coast. Yes, then need a NonStop or two – and isn’t there a couple buried deep inside the FAA? Seem to recall signs posted on the old Tandem campus directing FAA folks to training sessions but I digress. I made it and have been involved in the pre-event in formalities even as I call it a day.

Been busy on social media channels already – seen the tweets, and posts to LinkedIn and Facebook?  And by the way, forgive the typing miscues as I still stumble when it comes to using my iPhone but what the heck, I am getting better with time. But the point is, HPE is doing a terrific job in bringing together what they are calling an “influencer program” – and yours truly is among this group of influencers. Some of the participants are already familiar faces based on previous HPE Discover events in Las Vegas but others are completely new to me so it should be a fun week.

The serious side of the event will be when Meg and Antonio take the stage tomorrow afternoon and it is hard to believe how much has changed since HPE Discover Las Vegas this past June. If you were a HP shareholder just 12 to 18 months ago, you have done extraordinarily well as you now are invested in four companies whose combined market capitalization exceeds that of former times. In case you missed the critiques about HPE from some sources, this just came out today and it may surprise many:

Congratulations to Meg Whitman for her fine work at HP - and creating so much value for shareholders! And kudos for following the advice I offered 6 years ago: Stop HP's horribly destructive M&A and spin-off its enterprise, services and software divisions. Indeed, the old HP broke into legacy HP Inc. (HPQ) and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) as well as the spin mergers of its service and software divisions.
Including its spun-off software (($9 billion) and services ($14 billion), HPQ and HPE together have a market cap of $80 billion. In 2011, I calculated breaking up would give HP an aggregate $80 billion market cap, precisely where we are today. The parts were indeed worth quite a bit more than the whole - $47 billion more, in fact.

Subscribers to Seeking Alpha financial reports may recognize where this came from in response to HP Inc (HPQ) announcements of late. But returning to HPE – everyone in the NonStop community has wanted HPE to be profitable and focused and that is what we are now seeing. The results are still mixed even as I remain bullish on the blockchain program centered on NonStop and NS SQL/MX and working at the enterprise clearly much slower to realize but the changes to the organization are beginning to have an effect. Industry Analysts are now paying a little more attention to the product portfolio now under the oversight of HPE’s new enterprise group management team.

I am expecting to hear a lot more about all of this firsthand in a matter of a couple of hours’ time but for now, it’s still very much a waiting game as all around me, speculation whirls. What will take center stage in terms of new product and technology solutions? Will it be much ado about software-defined (which I think it will) or will it be about sending computers into space (which they have done) or even about the race to build even bigger high-performance computing systems … we will just have to wait and see!

In closing after a very long day - there will be familiar faces at this event just as there will be others I simply don’t recognize. However, the mere fact that HPE continues to go these lengths to keep the community informed is admirable and being part of the folks HPE believes can shift the needle somewhat, helping them get it into more positive territory is equally as admirable. Stay tuned as yes, not only do we have to wait and see but yes, we also can anticipate hearing so much more that is simply positive for the NonStop community.  

Saturday, November 25, 2017

What will I Discover in Madrid this time around with HPE?

Bags packed! Heading for the car in the morning! The trip to Madrid for the year-ending HPE Discover event is about to start and I will be providing commentaries and posts every opportunity I get … stay tuned for more news to follow!

It’s only been a week since we drove back from the NonStop Technical Boot Camp and even as I finished up a number of posts and commentaries and finalized submissions to a couple of publications,  I have just had to return to the wardrobe to repack for another week away from home. The photo above was taken just as the first keynote session was about to begin and as you can see, the event pulled quite a crowd. I don’t do anywhere near as much travelling as I once did when it wasn’t unusual for me to make it to Europe for an ITUG event in May only to see that I had already passed 100,000 miles. And yet, it’s hard not to have many of the emotions from that past life resurface and they don’t help; a time to relax in business class? Not quite! For me, it’s a return to the back of the bus, as even with the status I have reached with United I simply don’t fly enough for any benefits to kick in.

When it comes to social media outlets like Facebook, many of you probably are part of groups similar to mine and share many of the same friends and it likely hasn’t escaped you that so many of our friends still do the heavy lifting when it comes to promoting NonStop and related NonStop software solutions. Look at the updates coming from HPE VP & GM, Synergy, Blades and Mission Critical Systems, Randy Meyer, for instance, or Striim Cofounder and EVP, Sami Akbay. No kidding, they live at the airport and the conversations over adult beverages late into the night at Boot Camp only reinforced the message of just how many air miles those in sales accumulate in a year. However, this time I am extremely thankful no matter what class I happen to land or where I end up staying as I am a guest of HPE. You will not be hearing any complaints from me! To the contrary, I am truly excited to be heading to this final HPE Discover event of the year. I will be a part of the “independent blogging community” and designated an “influencer” even as I continue to be active in the HPE VIP Community. On the other hand, as someone who is passionate about NonStop and yes, Mission Critical Systems (MCS) too, it looks as though I will be the sole voice promoting all things NonStop within the blogging community so we will just have to wait and see how much visibility I can generate for NonStop.

NonStop continues to be a very special product line within the MCS portfolio. It doesn’t escape the NonStop community that the spotlight rarely falls on NonStop these days and in many ways that is a shame. For sure, it is a technology-heavy product that plays in a well-defined niche but in all other respects, how users can go about exploiting its capabilities today has very few limits. The world is now connected, always-on and users expect services to be available 24 X 7 – we are coming off Black Friday in the US and already articles are appearing highlighting lost revenue opportunities due to outages, with Macy’s being the latest to acknowledge a slow-down of their card processing systems. Ouch! HPE Discover is a showcase for the entire product portfolio on offer to enterprises worldwide and Madrid should be a place where we see a little more attention being given to NonStop. Even though I have just read that the weather forecast for Madrid is for rain (should I be surprised – the Rain in Spain, etc.), I am hoping for some sunshine radiating from NonStop!

Back in the mid-1990s to mid-2000s, I visited Madrid numerous times as part of NonStop Product Marketing and then again, as part of NonStop Product Management. However, my best memory of all was when NonStop Director of Product Marketing, Chris Rooke, called me in my Cupertino office and asked if I could leave that evening for Madrid. NonStop was on the hook for a comms and networking presentation to a major bank and there were no resources on hand in EMEA to give the presentation so out the door I rushed and grabbed that flight to Madrid. Transiting though Heathrow, it was only on arrival in Madrid standing in front of the Spanish immigration booth that I was asked for my visa – as a “green card” holder living in the US I was still an Australian citizen and I had to have a visa to enter Spain. Again, ouch! Seems like the Heathrow folks should never have allowed me on that flight to Madrid!

Well, as the story goes, the local NonStop country manager called the airport police, vouched for me, after which I surrendered my passport to the airport authorities in exchange for a 24 hour pass. Needless to say, I was focused and after a very late nightcap with Chris who checked into the hotel around midnight, I found myself back in my Cupertino office a short 54 hours later. I attracted little sympathy from my Cupertino colleagues, needless to say, when I told them that I was a  little exhausted from being jerked all over Europe! In subsequent years I enjoyed a more leisurely time in Spain and made sure that for each trip I had the right paperwork, but now, as a freshly minted US citizen it has become a lot easier to take those journeys into Europe.

The NonStop community may yearn for more attention within HPE and long for the white-hot spotlight to be directed onto NonStop, the HPE product, but this past week, it really has been all about HPE, the company. There has been so much news coming from HPE in the lead up to HPE Discover that at times I simply haven’t had enough time to digest it all. One of the things I like to do is to review various financial filings coming from HPE so it was very early on that I saw the footnote about current HPE CEO Meg Whitman preparing to hand over the role of CEO to current President, Antonio Neri. As from February, 2018, HPE will have a new CEO and one who has a firm grasp on technology, and for many in the financial industry, this is cause for some renewed interest in HPE.

According to a report in Bloomberg last week,
HPE Returns to Techie Roots Naming Neri to Succeed Whitman they wrote of how,  “‘The next CEO of the company needs to be a deeper technologist, and that’s exactly what Antonio is,’ Whitman said Tuesday on a conference call discussing the succession plan.” Blomberg then reported how,  “The CEO position is a different job now than what it was when Whitman first took over, and will focus more on the operational aspects of the company, said David Heger, an analyst at Edward Jones & Co.  ‘They’re at a point now where they need a different skill set than what she offered,’ he said. ‘They’re finished with doing spinoffs and re-engineering, and now what they have left is what they’re going to focus on going forward.’”

I think it is safe to say that Bloomberg wasn’t the only publication to highlight this shift in focus from financial to technology nor were they shy about the importance of the timing. There is a real sense of urgency about correcting the course HPE has set to better compete with companies already dominating in markets where HPE once held sway. There continues to be a lot of nay-sayers when it comes to the future prospects of HPE and yet, the NonStop community knows full well that the availability, scalability and business continuity attributes inherent in NonStop quickly separates it from the rest of the server pack. In many ways, it is time for HPE to move on from Unix and even OpenVMS – the time for mourning is long over and it’s time to embrace the hybrid world of Linux, Windows and yes, NonStop! If it truly is good for HPE IT then it is good for the rest of IT, no matter the industry – financial services, retail, telco, manufacturing and distribution, healthcare and yes, travel. 

It hurt to read in a post published by the investor-centric publication, SeekingAlpha, Hewlett Packard Enterprise: A Company In Chaos. According to their reporters, “The unifying theme is clear: HPE operates a portfolio of legacy businesses, and while it can manage to hang on to customers in the near term, it doesn't have any definitive brand leadership or reputation for quality in the markets that can drive sustained growth in the longer term. Everything that HPE does, other companies also do - perhaps even better.” Really? No definitive brand leadership? No reputation for quality? Even as it reflects the consensus view among investors it makes light of just how good the technology coming from HPE of late truly is – just ask Randy Meyer about their latest High Performance Computing (HPC) offerings!

Yes, it is time to pass the baton to a technologist. Yes, it’s time to feature all that differentiates HPE’s product portfolio from those of others. And it’s time, too, to direct that white-hot spotlight onto NonStop (did someone say, blockchain?)! Participating in the final HPE Discover big-tent event of the year is certainly going to prove interesting as we get to hear even more from heir-apparent, Antonio Neri, but every bit as important will be the attention given to all that differentiates HPE from its competitors. And safe to say, I will be watching for just how many references are made of NonStop and in so doing, use the references to blog, comment and post to as many social media channels as I can. And with that, it is off to the airport for my longest trip of the year!   

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Foundations are never glamorous but when it comes to NonStop, they’re making a big difference!

A solid foundation is important for any structure erected on a site and when it comes to NonStop, the NonStop Technical Boot Camp keynote presentations highlighted just how strong a foundation NonStop systems have today …

Planning for travel across the western states of the U.S. can be a gamble at times – will it snow or will we be blessed with sunshine? Over the years we have encountered almost every conceivable weather condition on the route that takes us north into Wyoming before turning west to that beautiful city by the bay. This year, the NonStop Technical Boot Camp (TBC) was held by the airport so our drive to San Francisco would mean tackling not only multiple mountain summits, but also some of the worst traffic in all the country. Naturally enough, we have left behind more sporting modes of transport in preference for the much sturdier Jeep. 

The picture above was taken just as we were about to leave for TBC. As you will note, work has now begun on the new home of our soon to be neighbor’s house and it’s been quite a project to get to this point – there was something amiss with the soil where they were excavating that needed more attention than normal, but nothing can be built without a sound foundation. And as we watched the proceedings over the past couple of weeks, the work proceeded at a cautious pace, but now, even as the snow began to fall, we can better see what the foundations will be supporting; the formwork already suggesting the layout of the home even as contractors waited for the concrete to be poured.

However, in a sign of things to come, the presence of snow at the outset of our trip was a little unsettling and yet, the rest of the drive to San Francisco was trouble free. I always pack the Jeep prepared for the worst – bags of kitty litter in case we get caught in a drift; chains we had made for the Jeep’s rear tires, but in truth, if the snow is that bad that we are forced to fit chains then we head to the nearest hotel and wait for better weather. We pack a shovel, candles, lots of water and a variety of snacks, just in case. The candles? It’s quite amazing how much heat a single candle can provide should we slide off the road and into a gulch.

But again, nothing happened, but I am reluctant to tempt fate and leave any of these items behind. When it comes to IT and to NonStop, TBC proved to follow a similar pattern. Oftentimes, the discussions on social media sites suggest that bad things are about to happen and, that as a community, NonStop users need to prepare themselves for the worst, but not this year. Just a lot of good news about the company, about the NonStop development team and about the NonStop products put a real positive spin on the goings-on of the event.

Right from the outset, Randy Meyer, VP & GM of Synergy, Blades and Mission Critical Systems, gave us the good news about NonStop we always like to hear. While HPE never gives out details of specific products, when it came to NonStop, Randy enthusiastically reported that for the third year in a row, NonStop beat its numbers! 

I am often asked for just what these numbers are – and I have asked many HPE managers this question through the years, but to no avail – when I look at what they potentially could look like, I have to admit that I continue to come up with a big number that covers everything (the systems, the storage, the network and yes, the software) then I seem to be attracted to a number between half a billion and a billion with perhaps the needle leaning more in the direction of the billion dollars, U.S. And as for the installed base I think the community is now somewhere close to 400 global enterprise customers.

At its peak, around 1990 (or a little before), sales of everything passed the two billion dollar mark but that included Ungermann Bass and Atalla and perhaps the pre-"spin-off" of TSA Inc. which, much later, became ACI Worldwide with revenues that in 2016 topped a billion dollars!  As for the installed base of NonStop systems all those years ago, a figure of close on 2,000 global enterprise customers comes to mind …

But the numbers don’t really matter anymore! It’s the transaction volumes that continue to climb with one bank here stateside already processing more than a billion transactions a month according to the data being provided by one NonStop solutions vendor. And the numbers don’t really matter anymore as HPE is truly focused on “high-value business” and there were many former NonStop users who probably should have looked at alternate product offerings.

At one time, Tandem Computers had a huge footprint across the newspaper industry even as it had an equally large footprint in police stations, but today, it’s clear that the value proposition of NonStop proves most appealing to financial institutions, retailers and of course, telcos. Manufacturing and distribution and yes, even transportation continue to see a sprinkling of NonStop systems around the planet but as a general purpose, fault tolerant system, NonStop has been deployed in numbers that support it being viewed as a niche solution. Now, after reading this I am sure there will be a number of NonStop community members that will take me to task over all this and so yes, I encourage you all to post comments! Could prove very interesting reading.

Terms like high value and niche aren’t to be scoffed at. Oftentimes, niches can be “owned” by just a single vendor and when you look at the data provided by industry analysts such as IDC, when it comes to the very highest levels of availability, what IDC calls availability level four (AL4), then the only legitimate system seen up at the top of this pyramid is NonStop. Yes, we all know IBM can provide a Parallel Sysplex cluster of mainframes, but you would be hard-pressed to acknowledge it provides fault tolerance out of the box. However, returning to the numbers game one last time, the number of nines supported is meaningful and very important to those processing customer transactions, 24 X 7.

Just ask any eCommerce company about lost business every time they report an outage and even stock exchanges, once the bastion of NonStop, but long since a haven for inexpensive off-the-shelf servers havn’t seen the levels of availability they once enjoyed with NonStop and more often than not, make the evening news with stories about their latest crash! Or hack! Yes, NonStop supports seven nines and beyond – that’s just what it does!

All of this is by way of a backdrop or introduction to what transpired at Boot Camp. We saw a lot more of the framework surrounding the future of NonStop even as we witnessed a new foundation being laid for NonStop systems, whether traditional or virtual. It’s all about the L-Series and no longer about the boxes. It’s all about compatibility being maintained across any deployment of the L-Series version of the NonStop supported OS and accompanying integrated stack. It’s all about what the application sees and there is no difference at the application level whether you run on a NonStop X system or on the Converged Virtualized NonStop, of which we all got a “sneak peek”, or on hypervisors deployed on any commercially available off the shelf x86 server cluster! Cool!

Yes, you read this right it’s all about the L and for the rest of the industry, catching L as they attempt to enter the niche owned by NonStop. And supporting a growing proliferation of foundations and frameworks, there is nothing stopping NonStop becoming a formidable presence inside the hybrid IT data centers or further afield, supporting real time streaming analytics platforms as part of the intelligent edge.

The return drive to Colorado, well, that didn’t go quite so well with Wyoming closing Interstate 80 part way across because of high winds, drifting snow and icy roads. We had always planned on stopping the night partway across and our hotel just happened to be where the boom was dropped across the highway. The following morning proved a difficult test of drivers’ patience but we made it out of these conditions intact.

As I was focused on negotiating the trying conditions it occurred to me, NonStop has really emerged from some testing times. It is so much stronger and a lot better suited to today’ needs. Yes, it’s a high value solution as seen by HPE but it’s also a very high value proposition for all those enterprises looking to stay out of the nightly newscasts. This was perhaps the biggest impression that was made on the community – run NonStop your way from a vendor who can support you any way. And that just has to be the money number for all of us!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

NonStop Technical Boot Camp 2017 – it’s all about to happen!

In 48 hours’ time we will be back out on the highways mixing it up with all the big rigs, trucks and SUVs and even though it takes us three days, there is no way we would miss the NonStop Technical Boot Camp, 2017, in San Francisco. Will we be seeing you there?

If by now you haven’t heard about the biggest event of the year for the NonStop community, then listen up! This is a big occasion and already the number of attendees is crossing the line and approaching a really good figure – not sure exactly what the final count will look like but I do know there are a lot of people really looking forward to this event kicking off in just a few days’ time. The move to San Francisco may be one factor, or simply because it’s a chance to head to sunny California where the real appeal lies. No matter, the chance to hear the NonStop team outline the next milestones for NonStop and to hear firsthand about recent successes in the marketplace by HPE along with the vendors providing solutions on NonStop, remain important catalysts driving continued interest in all things NonStop.

For the past couple of weeks I have been out on the road. Mixing it up with current and former Tandem and NonStop developers, sitting at tables with multiple vendors and yes, participating in webex and goto meeting calls, have made one thing very clear. Any doubts I may have had about the potential longevity of NonStop and any thoughts as to whether the best days of NonStop are behind it are incorrect and quite misleading. It’s always easy for competitors to downplay the significance of systems and platforms – just look at the angst being expressed among the IBM mainframe supporters of late. Not to make too fine a point of it, but for as long as I can remember, I have been questioned over my support for NonStop and as time has passed there have been days when I may have had my doubts. But no longer!

When driving America’s highways it is hard to miss the impact that trucks, SUVs and crossovers have had on the driving population. Trying to find a coupĂ© or even a sedan is proving harder to do as this niche market addresses those who rarely take their vehicles any further afield then their office. Or the airport! As for the humble station-wagon, fuggedaboutit! What is more surprising is that time and time again, there is only one person occupying the vehicle and while these automobiles are often filled with equipment or towing a trailer loaded with materials, it is still significant that the go-to vehicle of today is big, brawny and gas guzzling 4 X 4 whose owners expect to use them in many different roles. And so it appears to be happening within IT. No matter how we look at it, cloud computing deployed on-premise looks every bit as big as the largest systems we deployed back in the heyday of mainframes. Yes there are collections of industry standard servers but just take a look at the pictures used to illustrate the server farms supporting on-premise clouds and the racks of servers disappear far into the distance.

Point is, big is back and the distributed systems of just a few years ago are being pushed aside in favor of much larger configurations. Of course, we cannot ignore for one moment the huge uptick in volumes we are dealing with from our online networks, as everyone is connected. Everywhere! Nor can we ignore the waves of change heading our way as we begin to deal with IoT and the intelligent edge. The technology pendulum we know so well is swinging back to bigger centralized on-premise system complexes. Did we see this developing just a decade ago? As we turned the corner and entered this century, the populist thoughts were all on the network as the system where client / server computing prevailed. Certainly, aspects of what was talked about, all those years ago, remains but nothing really prepared us for the uptick in big systems that we see being deployed today.

When it comes to NonStop systems and where the NonStop community is headed, there is a developing wrinkle to this story. Consider NonStop Technical Boot Camp platinum sponsor, OmniPayments, who is happily populating their clouds with NonStop X systems. A very unique situation, but one worth watching all the same and yes, at TBC, I am sure we will hear from Yash about some of his recent successes originating from his ability to offer OmniPayments as a SaaS. But Yash is not alone. Already there are discussions at vendors as diverse as comForte, IR and even DataExpress about the value that might be realized in offering their products on the basis of IaaS / SaaS. In so doing, of course, adding the capability to support multiple enterprises can only be effective if they scale up their servers to meet the demands that could materialize.

Are we ditching our economy boxes? Are we retreating from our niche servers? The short answer is yes, we are. And it’s all about the value proposition of commercially available, off-the-shelf, hardware. As one source states, “Commercial off-the-shelf or commercially available off-the-shelf  (COTS) satisfy the needs of the purchasing organization, without the need to commission custom-made, or bespoke, solutions.” So yes, as one of my former bosses used to tell me, “The gigs up!” You either support COTS or you find another line of work. Really? Yes, really – in less than a decade, the NonStop systems we know so well will be relegated to museums even as virtualized NonStop permeates many enterprise clouds. Too dramatic – well, let’s just see. When TBC kicks off and we get past the opening keynote presentations, come visit me (I will be part of the Striim team, working the Striim booth in the Partner Pavilion, Booth # 52) and let’s have a coffee and talk about it. I think it will be hard to escape the inevitability of a substantial change in focus for NonStop development.

It is not so much a case of pursuing a path that takes us back to big general-purpose computers but rather the array of processes strung together in support of a cloud (or cloud-like) to provide more flexibility which allows enterprises to run pretty much everything they have needed in the past. COTS open the door to containers and virtual machines and whatever is your preference, you can fire up a configuration to suit even the most custom application you may have. In the same way we are headed to autonomous, driverless, if not totally boring but ubiquitous motoring experiences, so too we are headed to autonomous, operatorless (thanks to AI, machine learning and the like) and yes, ubiquitous computing experiences. Move some icons around a screen and Voila! There you have it – your computer provisioned just the way you like it …

Of course, none of this may take place in the immediate future and the market that NonStop serves so well today is notoriously slow-moving, but my reading of the tea leaves suggests it is inevitable. And I am happy to see that as niche markets, even those dominated by boutique players, eventually close down. Disappear! Giving NonStop wings to fly inside every cloud well – isn’t that a world we all have wanted to see for as long as NonStop has existed? The picture atop this post is of me in front of both an S-Series (note the Tandem badge) and an Itanium Blade system – the S-Series is pretty easy to identify but the older Blade system? Not so much; in the future, it will be next to impossible to locate where NonStop is running because the simple truth might very well be – it is running everywhere!

See you at TBC 2017 and safe travels!