Thursday, August 28, 2014

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 4, 2014

It’s the data, stupid!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 13, 2014

HP NonStop systems’ deployments you might have missed!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 6, 2014

I feel the need for speed …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Take a chance; align your messages – HP NonStop and HP’s big messages!

With another week to chew on all I saw at HP Discover, the more things change the more they stay the same. And that’s encouraging news for all Pathway fans I suspect … but there’s even more that’s positive for NonStop! Even HP!

If my immediate consideration following 2014 HP Discover was to let my mind shuffle around all that I had seen and heard, today I can honestly admit that I have developed strong opinions about what looks to have staying power. If your interests include mobility, security, clouds and big data, then there was plenty of material on hand and the Discover Zone (a.k.a. the exhibition hall) had it all; from kiosks, to demonstration booths, to specialty mini-theaters! Beneath overhead banners supporting the big messages from HP you could find out all you ever wanted to know about a particular theme or focus area with someone knowledgeable always at hand.

On more than one occasion I was rewarded with insight and perspective in an unambiguous manner, so much so that it was easy to see where to spend time wisely. Fortunately, I have a number of clients who are making investments in building products in support of these themes so at least I had a yardstick with which to measure what HP was talking about, but unfortunately, more often than not, it appears HP has a long way to go before any investments should be considered by the NonStop community.

Let’s start with big data and the work being done by Vertica.
When you consider HP’s recognition of data and of being overwhelmed by data - particularly when it comes to the Internet of Things (IoT) and, just as importantly, the explosive growth of Machine-to-Machine (M2M) dialogues – and that this is what has driven HP to pursue the vision of The Machine, you would think the team at Vertica would be well versed in all aspects of big data. However, it is unclear just how broad their focus is at this point in time.

Throw into this mix the recognized need for real time analytics and the rapidly-developing customer requirement to bring all pertinent data, including transactional, reference and historical, to bear at the time a transaction is being performed, and Vertica becomes vague on the matter. One expert tried to persuade me that I could achieve this is if I narrowed my “update window” sufficiently so that Vertica could refresh my operational database with pertinent information “in a timely manner” – a less than elegant solution, in my books.

On the other hand, anyone who has recently paid a visit to the web site of WebAction, Inc. knows full well that imagined technologies are coming off the whiteboard quickly with new products being aggressively marketed. “Along with NonStop real-time data, the WebAction platform can ingest any other structured and unstructured data source and provide you with a single view of your data streams,” said WebAction executive vice president, Sami Akbay. “For example, bring together your system logs, social media feeds, infrastructure logs, and correlate them with events happening right now on your NonStop system and elsewhere across your enterprise.” And that synchs well with my own observations but as yet, hasn’t really percolated up to Vertica management.

WebAction is light on its feet when it comes to NonStop, running outboard on a cluster of servers but what it detects, and then reports can be ingested on NonStop – applications on NonStop responding to web actions will become routine and this is very important to the NonStop community. However, while this is understood to be a legitimate business requirement, providing big data in real time remains alien to the team at Vertica.

Moving from big data to clouds, and to NonStop and clouds in particular, at HP Discover the discussion often ended even as it began. Get in front of the cloud evangelists and then raise the concerns large financial institutions have about privacy and security and of how comprehensive (and time consuming) the certification process is today, when it comes to changing a simple routine or process, the disengagement happens very quickly. However, the reality is that there’s numerous large applications that could benefit from cloud computing but all that seems to catch the cloud evangelist’s ear appears to be web hosting and web serving opportunities.

It’s all a services model today, right? So just put the services that chew up the most resources into the cloud and problem solved! Not so fast, or so it would seem – again, the work being done at the macro level by HP, with cloud messages omitting way too much to hold out much hope for the NonStop community. Or is there hope after all? “After marketing maRunga to NonStop users and telling them how easy it is to burst into clouds whenever demand on a NonStop system exceeds capacity, it’s clear that, to most NonStop users, introducing anything that’s cloud oriented scares them away,” said Infrasoft Managing Director, Peter Shell.

However, “what is becoming interesting is the re-awakening of interest in Pathway,” Shell added. “As much as the community talks about TS/MP, it’s hard to ignore it’s really all about Pathway so we are refining the message of maRunga to highlight the added capabilities we can provide Pathway users. Since the advent of TS/MP 2.4 it’s relatively easy to plug in maRunga and extend the persistent coverage Pathway provides to processes running on systems other than NonStop.”

Everything of value today on NonStop runs under Pathway – you want to set up a JVM then yes, it’s just another instance of a Pathway serverclass. NS SOAP? Yes, runs under Pathway, too! With consideration being given to hybrid configuration involving NonStop and Linux, “wouldn’t it be valuable for processes on Linux having the same degree of persistence as any other instance of a Pathway serverclass,” said Shell.

At HP Discover there were a number of packaged offerings built around Converged Infrastructure that HP is calling Converged Systems (CS) and it’s no stretch of the imagination to think about how easy it would be to throw in a rack or two of NonStop processors – the CS100 already holds a Moonshot cartridge draw – and then engaging Pathway via maRunga to obtain levels of availability normally reserved solely for NonStop. Should the wait for such a CS package prove too long, there’s already one solutions vendor who has begun building their own hybrid in a tower that I will cover in a future post.

However, few can argue that maRunga with clouds is off the radar screen for many within HP. But like WebAction, while the underlying product set isn’t changing, the messaging is – and finding a fit with HP’s big messages. Unlike some of the slideware I ran across in the Discover Zone, it is a real product and just prior to HP Discover, maRunga was successfully deployed within HP’s Advanced Technology Centers for all to see at the event.

When it comes to mobility it would be remiss of me not to mention InkaBinka – a product I have covered in several previous posts. InkaBinka was highly celebrated within HP and following the decision by InkaBinka to deploy the product on in-house Moonshot system, InkaBinka’s web serving solution was heavily promoted at the event. Late breaking news? InkaBinka featured in Enterprise Tech – check out the article by following this link: InkaBinka Moves From Cloud To Moonshot For Launch 

“Today, Sunday, June 22 InkaBinka became the #4 app under ‘news summary’; the same morning it had been #10,” wrote InkaBinka CEO, Kevin McGushion, this past weekend. “Thank you to everyone for downloading and loving the app!” Pictured above, is McGushion (on the left), along with HP VP & GM, Moonshot Business Unit, Paul Santeler, addressing InkaBinka on Moonshot during a panel session at HP Discover.

I will be covering this development in more detail in a future post. But again, Mobility? Today InkaBinka has become one of the most downloaded apps in news summary, and a lot of credit needs to go to HP for giving the InkaBinka product as much exposure as it did. So, even as I wonder about the effort needed to grab HP’s attention for work being done in support of big data and clouds, accepting chance opportunities can still prove beneficial to NonStop vendors as HP is not immune to throwing its weight behind something it sees as strongly aligning with its own interests.

And this leads me to my final observation – when it comes to the big messages being promoted by HP, it’s good to recognize the breadth of coverage as well as the intensity of focus. As of right now, the focus is intense but the coverage still presents opportunities and not for a moment should any in the NonStop community feel NonStop is not being given due consideration. Get the message right, and HP listens – what I have watched happen at InkaBinka more than proves that point.

For me, it’s encouraging whenever NonStop partners break through the noise and are given greater visibility – there’s no escaping an increasing NonStop presence in big data as mission critical transaction processing around the world continues to depend on NonStop. Cloud participation will continue to be a hard sell but again, it’s the message and not the solution that needs fine-tuning. There are more posts still to come about HP Discover elsewhere in the blogosphere even as the event itself begins to fade from memory but  for now, it was rewarding enough just to have participated. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

This changes everything!

Will the sun finally set on NonStop? Is the journey about to end? Or, will NonStop morph into something new and yet, still recognizable? It may take five or more years but there are signs that HP is taking bold steps to change everything!

The official program for 2014 HP Discover has ended and in a few hours’ time I will be heading back to Boulder. But for now, I am still in Las Vegas, sweltering under the heat of an early arrival of summer, and catching up on posts and other correspondence all the while letting my thoughts run free as I shuffle through all I heard at this year’s big tent event.

The doors to the conference have closed, and another event is probably in the early throws of being set up. 2014 HP Discover is now just another footnote in the 75 years of HP’s history with expectations for the next 25 years running high. When I posted to this blog around this same time last year, I titled the post, At long last, disruptive innovation from HP! Of course, this was a reference to HP taking the wraps off Project Moonshot. But little did I know of what HP may do to top that announcement, and yet they managed to do so.

However, before going into the specifics of what was covered during the final general session keynote hosted by HP CEO, Meg Whitman, let me just jump right into the event itself. As you can expect from such a large event attracting about 10,000 participants, there’s a wide variety of topics covered by HP – and yes, this is a HP event where every presentation has been vetted by HP, so it’s rare to see anything unexpected and yet, the unexpected still happens.

There were a handful of presentations the NonStop community could enjoy – presentations by Randy Meyer and then a little later in the week, by Mark Pollans, gave the NonStop folks present at the event some resemblance to user events of the past, but overall, if you wanted to hear about NonStop it was pretty slim pickings. However, NonStop just isn’t the focus of this event nor is it an event focused on users – it will be the bootcamp in November where this will all happen. On the other hand, it’s still incredibly important for all with investments in NonStop to see just what’s capturing HP’s attention as it is an important consideration for anyone prepared to keep investing in NonStop.

In England, the houses of parliament have been designed not to seat every Member of Parliament. And that’s for a reason – when there’s an important legislative debate taking place, members are literally hanging from the rafters and this is the mood  parliament wants to convey. When the issues being debated are so important it pulls every sitting member out of the nearby pubs just for the occasion. Something similar happens at events as well, and this year the big surprise was the keynote by the new Senior VP & GM, Servers and Networking business units within the Enterprise Group – Antonio Neri.

For his presentation (and reflecting the scope of his portfolio that includes NonStop, of course), he had invited a number of guest presenters that he essentially interviewed and among them was Steve Wozniak, former Dancing with the Stars contestant, but now Chief Scientist, Fusion-io. Yes, the same Steve that co-founded Apple. It appeared everyone wanted in on this presentation so as the hour approached, and with a meeting room seating fewer than 400, the line that developed snaked all the way down the primary corridor, into an adjacent corridor and back to the top of nearby elevators.

While little, apart from a reference in passing, was given to NonStop in between each interview by Neri were videos that were just collages picked from videos made about users and vendors of servers and networks.  And there were some better-known names referenced – Visa, UPS, etc. that were familiar to all at NonStop. With Steve on stage, and pretty much taking over the show, this was pure entertainment of the highest order.

 It seems everyone attending the event wanted to hear Steve and it reminds me of the grand old days when Jimmy Treybig held court. It’s a shame in some respects, but with the passage of time, I have to wonder how many more occasions there will be to listen to Silicon Valley legends and I was sure glad I made the cut and was able to hear Steve. And who knows, with Fusion-io partnering with HP, the management team at HP may see a new face!

NonStop wasn’t the star attraction of HP Discover nor were enterprise servers. When you look at the big themes then it was hard to miss mobility, security, clouds and big data. Clouds has undergone a makeover, resurfacing under the branding of Helion – yes, it was Helion this and Helion that. Big Data centered on Vertica, naturally, although no one I talked to at Vertica could explain to me how their vision of big data was going to engage with real time transactions and any reference to wanting to integrate big data into the transaction world and so enrich customer engagements simply generated a blank stare!

As for mobile and security they were well represented but what did catch my eye was the appearance of Converged Systems packages. Yes, cabinets labelled CS100, CS300, CS900, etc. were on display and represented a mix of general purpose Converged Systems as well as a couple of very specific packages. And packages these were – each illustrating what can be done when being creative with systems compliant with the previously announced Converged Infrastructure project.

What the folks here were doing was filling cabinets with processors, storage and networking kit sourced from different development groups and delivering hybrids all nicely tested, configured and with a common operational interface. To demonstrate the versatility of this group, the CS100 included Moonshot cartridges along with more conventional 3Par storage, together with HP networking products – all in a very clean package. On the other hand, the CS900 was optimized for SAP / Hana with another model optimized for Vertica. How soon would it be before a CS configuration would support a mix of say NonStop, Atalla, Linux and Windows? Who knows, but with the coming support of NonStop on the x86 architecture, some at the CS pavilion thought it would be highly likely (once I explained what a NonStop system was, of course).

As for personalities then there were still many familiar faces – there were the lads from comForte standing by a kiosk, with Dr. Michael Rossbach nearby. At another kiosk were our good friends at OmniPayments with Yash ever present.  WebAction sent Dale and JK, and Brian Miller of Lusis also were in attendance. Kramer from IR and I briefly exchanged opinions, and yes, I was able to catch up with Keith Evans, formerly of NonStop and now with Gravic as well as with his better half, Sharon Fisher. So yes, there was a sprinkling of familiar faces and we all thanked Tom Moylan profusely for hosting a Tuesday night soirée for all parties associated with NonStop.

In the weeks to come we are going to hear a lot more of the major announcement by HP concerning The Machine and I will cover in more detail in a later post. Suffice to say, when Martin Fink walked us through the technology it was a case of back to physics and back to chemistry. All you need to know is that “electrons compute, photons communicate, and ions store,” Martin told us. At the conclusion of his reveal, HP CEO, Meg Whitman, than wrapped it up with the observation, “This changes everything!”

The Machine will likely get a name at some point but there are at least four projects – the development of the special purpose processors, the photonics and the massive memory as well as a new clean-sheet operating system and stack. No small feat to even contemplate doing but the board of HP has approved 75% of all R&D dollars be earmarked to this project, so The Machine carries with it all the hopes of HP for the next 25 years. If Martin manages to pull it off, then indeed it will change everything.

Last year I came away impressed with Moonshot – so much so I managed to sway the principles at one of my clients, InkaBinka, to switch from the cloud to using an in-house Moonshot system and in doing so, they were one of the featured companies in Neri’s videos. This year, it’s The Machine. Neither of these projects seem to have any connection to NonStop, but can we be sure? I think there’s likely considerable trickle-down transfer but that I will leave to another post as well. More importantly what will become of NonStop with such a massive development project opting to go down the open source path?

For now, I need to pack and prepare for the return trip to Boulder. I want to take the two days I will be driving to let my thoughts continue to do their shuffle thing. Even as momentum builds in support of The Machine, NonStop has much to look forward to – first with x86 and then with hybrids clouds and much more. Even with a successful program behind The Machine followed by an aggressive roll out, NonStop will continue to provide value wherever mission critical transaction processing is needed. And for a very long time …

HP Discover events never cease to surprise me and I can only imagine what will be pulled from the hat next year, but in the meantime, the storylines that come from this week’s events are enough to keep me busy for another year. To all travelling home I wish safe travels and to those undecided about bootcamp, well, make plans and I will see you all in November.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Explosions possible even as hope springs eternal!

Time spent in Hope, B.C. held surprises for me and Sylvester Stallone however, time spent in Las Vegas, every bit as explosive (I’m almost sure) will create a renewed sense of hope …

In the 1970s, after spending a short time in London, England, I immigrated to Canada. When the opportunity came to put London behind me and to work in Canada, I jumped at the chance. As my final destination was to be Edmonton, Alberta, the Canadian authorities fast tracked my application for landed immigrant status and I was on the plane, out of London, in only a couple of weeks. That should have been a clue. Seriously!

All the same, I felt exhilarated to be going to a new country and I was hoping for the best. After landing at the airport, early March 1976, and with snow everywhere (yes, my first encounter with the fluffy stuff), I wasn’t sure how it would all turn out, but a few weeks later I was hard at work for the local Caterpillar distributor and had a great condo down town with a new BMW 530 sedan in the garage.

And this brings me to the matter of the small town of Hope, British Columbia, pictured above  – a small village on the western slopes of the Canadian Rockies. Early one morning, all those years ago, I executed a perfect U Turn on Hope’s main street only to be pulled over by the sheriff. Fortunately, it was only a brief lecture that time and I didn’t get a ticket.

Years later I was to reflect on this incident when I saw the township featured in a movie. It happened that this very same Hope, B.C., was the setting for the fictional American township of Hope in the film, Rambo, First Blood. Unfortunately for Rambo, the Hope sheriff depicted in the movie wasn’t as conciliatory as the one that pulled me over, and the rest, as they say, is history. In a case of serendipity, I share with Stallone considerable discomfort – even if only fleeting in my case – because of Hope.

Looking at the prospects of American NFL teams in 2014 sports reporter, Mike Tanier, blogged to the web site
Sports on Earth about The Hope Index. “How do you calculate hope?” he asked. “That is a question that has not baffled philosophers throughout the ages at all, because it is an incredibly stupid question that they would not waste their time with.” Stupid it may be, but then again, there are those among us who believe that hope can indeed be calculated.

As I prepare to go to Las Vegas this weekend, many of my conversations have included numerous references to hope. HP’s biggest event of the year (attracting crowds we could only dream of, back in ITUG days) will kick-off shortly and for the NonStop community there’s hope that NonStop will be referenced even if only in passing. As for me, I’m hoping to hear a lot more from HP about the big picture. The vision and strategy that
will shape the course of HP’s business for the next couple of years!

If you read any of the commentaries following HP’s just-released quarterly financial results, you would have been disappointed by much of the coverage that followed.
“Hewlett-Packard does not seem to have a working strategy in place,” wrote one analyst in a post to
Seeking Alpha. “Hewlett-Packard is still knee-deep in its restructuring,”  followed with the observation that if, “Hewlett-Packard was in the retail business, the stock would have likely declined 5-10% after results released as retail investors are much more sensitive to revenue declines than investors in the tech business (hopes are usually higher in the tech industry).”

Yes, IT has always has been driven by high hopes and it’s a sentiment I share (and one I am not ashamed to admit), even as it sums up my own impressions of HP. There’s just too much talent within HP for anyone to discount the company’s strategy and if we were to calculate hope, then I for one believe the final number would be large.

Beneath the surface, as turbulent as it may seem, I sense there’s major transitions under way and with transitions, opportunities. Something new is coming and I sure do hope HP gets it right. I have been around IT for a very long time and yet, whenever I hear of something new, I still get excited. At the top of my list is the coming need to accommodate today’s business (the enterprise) morphing into something very different to what we see today.

In a recent private email to my clients I made the simple observation - The application? Legacy! The data center? Legacy! How about the enterprise? Legacy, too! It was shorthand for suggesting that when we think of legacy, it shouldn’t surprise any is that anything that’s currently working is, almost by today’s definition, legacy and requires constant maintenance. It’s not surprising then that we can apply the legacy label to business itself.

Suffice to say, one reason I am hoping for change is that I cannot see us making much progress – when it comes to innovation and growth – if we stick to doing what we do today. IT will bear the brunt of these changes – in fact, I have a sense that IT as we know it has outlived its usefulness. So sorry! As for the CIO, well, we already know he’s increasingly focused on the business and is becoming an integral part of the marketing team.

Looking at the agenda for 2014 HP Discover I couldn’t miss the headlines promoting the general session presentations. On Tuesday HP CEO, Meg Whitman, along with HP executives, John Hinshaw, George Kadifa, Mike Nefkens, and Bill Veghte will talk about Defining the New Style of IT and about HP providing solutions for this new foundation. The following day, Wednesday, Whitman will be joined by a familiar face, HP’s CTO and EVP, Marin Fink, where they will talk about their Vision for the Future of the New Style of IT.

This all sounds like strategy and vision to me and likely, a recognition that there are indeed, observable transitions under way. But as part of these changes, what are we hoping will happen to NonStop? As of right now, within HP, all enterprise systems are conveniently packaged together in a single entity and while I am not suggesting they will be dropped overboard anytime soon, it does worry me a tad that this neat little bundle is so perfectly gift-wrapped. When it comes to defining the new style of IT, is there room for enterprise servers?

Together with NonStop there are a couple of other server offerings worthy of further investment so I believe dropping this bundle overboard isn’t in the cards at this point. Furthermore, just placing all the enterprise servers in one bundle under one leader and including a couple of cutting edge technologies isn’t all that bad – should the enterprise as we know it, be legacy and should the data center (and it’s CIO) be legacy too, whatever emerges will need a lot of compute power, for next to nothing.

Future enterprises will be even flatter (organizationally) than we have ever seen before, with every employee having access to all the compute power they need, and so vendors will be increasingly focused on shipping technology to the powerhouses on the grid delivering the compute power required. For many, the hope is that HP evolves to become something akin to the GE of computing and I see that very much in the cards. The question “does HP have a working strategy in place?” may be answered a lot differently than we may expect.

It was the eighteenth century poet, Alexander Pope, who penned the lines
Hope springs eternal in the human breast; Man never is, but always to be blessed:
The soul, uneasy and confined from home, Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

In other words, as one commentator paraphrased the above, people will continue to hope even though they have evidence that things cannot possibly turn out the way they want. The contrarian in me despite all that’s been written of late is hoping HP doesn’t disappoint!

Hope can blind us if we let it but it can also help us focus. In the case of Rambo, he became focused in a hurry when he found himself in an abandoned mine shaft after the sheriff’s deputies from Hope blew up the entrance. As for HP Discover I do anticipate there being explosions but of a different kind and amid all the entertainment and hijinks that accompanies big tent marketing events such as this, I am looking to discern more about the future of HP and of NonStop.

Well, at the very least, this is what I am hoping for …