Monday, March 23, 2015

To what extent would you go to help with research?

For the longest time I have not thought of Ikea – I hate furniture assembly, the tool I know how to use is my phone, so in the end it is not even worth it to buy “assembly required” stuff. Reminds me of the time at Tandem when a new printer arrived with the instructions composed somewhere outside of the English speaking zone and one step listed was to fringer the part in place. Ever since all of us involved in the exercise of assembling this printer say “go fringer!” whenever a situation calls for “go figure!”

But I digressed. The thing is in the past few days I have been forced into thinking about Ikea. First, CNN Money reported how the new Ikea night tables will charge our phones wirelessly. See http://money.cnn.com/2015/03/02/technology/ikea-furniture-charge-phones/?iid=EL Getting rid of the wires has been my personal dream for the longest time,  for a very evident reason, too.

Well, today I read an article in the Fortune magazine about Ikea growth and expansion to the less developed countries, http://fortune.com/2015/03/10/ikea/

Author, Beth Kowith, wrote a particularly disturbing paragraph about Ikea:
“One way Ikea researchers get around this is by taking a firsthand look themselves. The company frequently does home visits and—in a practice that blends research with reality TV—will even send an anthropologist to live in a volunteer’s abode. Ikea recently put up cameras in people’s homes in Stockholm, Milan, New York, and Shenzhen, China, to better understand how people use their sofas. What did they learn? “They do all kinds of things except sitting and watching TV,” Ydholm says. The Ikea sleuths found that in Shenzhen, most of the subjects sat on the floor using the sofas as a backrest. “I can tell you seriously we for sure have not designed our sofas according to people sitting on the floor and using a sofa like that,” says Ydholm.”

And this brings me to my question: To what extent would you go to help with research? The presence of the cameras, the ability of things I use to “spy” on me and report – just see the offer from AT&T: https://my-digitallife.att.com/learn/ShopHomeAutomation.html .

I am not sure I really like it, and today I read another story about Ikea: http://money.cnn.com/2015/03/17/news/companies/ikea-hide-and-seek/index.html Virginia Harrison writes: “The Swedish furniture retailer wants shoppers to stop playing hide-and-seek in its stores as the game attracts a growing following on social media. We are very happy that people are playful but safety must prevail," said spokesperson for the Ikea Group Martina Smedberg. "Please don't play hide-and-seek in Ikea stores." It all started in Belgium last year when a woman put playing hide-and-seek in a Ikea store on her pre-30th birthday bucket list. Smedberg said she turned up with some of her friends and everyone had a great time. The game has also been played in Sweden.

But now things are getting out of control. The practice looks set to ramp up from a few friends to something much bigger. Word is spreading on Facebook and similar events are planned in Europe and Canada. 19,000 people have signed up to an event at an Amsterdam store next month. That's prompted the furniture retailer, which has 315 stores in 27 countries, to call time on the games.”

I am thinking it is only fair that people play hide and seek in the stores of the company that does its research by installing cameras and watching what you do on your sofa in the privacy of your home!  Yes, Ikea found out that folks “do all kinds of things except sitting and watching TV” – and I for sure would not consent to cameras in my family room! Perhaps, setting aside sections of their stores where real customers can be filmed using select furniture pieces as a follow-on to hide and seek may be a solution!

Getting rid of the wires certainly needs little additional research. No one needs to mount cameras in my office to fully understand the problem. Something needs to be done – and perhaps it’s already being addressed and I just have to find something that works a lot better in my environment. When it comes to NonStop systems as long as I recall the vulnerability was in the connections; there were wires plugged into chassis by NonStop engineers installing systems on customers’ premises.

I travelled to Australia in the early 1990s to look at government-funded research into very high-speed wireless connections with the intent to verify if the then to be announced S-Systems could be packaged with wireless interconnect. Such a connection model would mean NonStop would come with a life-time warranty. Something Product Management was keen to explore. Perhaps the failure to proceed with the technology was more a case of not being able to present a viable business case, but then again, as I look back on that trip, maybe I should have taken a lot more photos or, at the very least, set up a video feed for potential clients to check out.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Can you believe it? “Pragmatism trumps spectacle”!

Influenced by the recent post of Margo Holen, the Internet of Things certainly is attracting more than its fair share of the media spotlight. However, it’s also fair to say that with more and more things communicating, your primary systems just can’t fail!


For true car racing enthusiasts, including those who still harbor hopes of becoming a world champion, Racer is the must-read magazine each month. It provides not just in-depth analysis but pages of data about team and driver performances. And oh yes, the pictures look really cool, too. Margo and I are about to start our eighth year of High-Performance Driver Education (HPDE) track outings across the western states of America and, while using the word race remains taboo, we are on track at least four times a day for 20 – 25 minute “sessions”. Having said this, we are amateur enthusiasts at best and only on a good day.

The picture above comes from the very first post of June 6, 2008, to our social blog, Buckle-Up-Travel, Off to the races ... and it continues to surprise many that it is Margo behind the wheel of our C6 Corvette; a vehicle that has been in production for more than sixty years and has come to define what today we call America’s sports car. Muscular, flashy and always ready to put on a show! But as I read the latest issue of Racer magazine I came across a brief editorial page with the heading, “Pragmatism trumps Spectacle” and my thoughts turned to the more than forty years that Tandem computers, now NonStop systems, have been supporting the most mission-critical of all business applications.

NonStop systems have stuck steadfastly to the task of providing 24 X 7 NonStop availability, with near linear scalability, but without the flash or even the fanfare that today heralds the arrival of something new.  Announcing the Apple Watch, as Apple has just done with its high-energy, spectacular, Spring Forward event immediately after the switch to daylight savings (quite the marketing coupe that grabbed everyone’s attention) was a flashy affair but shortly HP will be officially taking the wraps of the next family of NonStop systems – NonStop X. I doubt there will be much to show by way of fanfare and bright lights, but the message will ring true. If you have mission critical applications to support, where failure is not an option, then NonStop delivers.

The NonStop X family of systems is arriving at an opportune time – much faster performance than many of us had thought back in 2013 when the wraps were taken off the program for NonStop to embrace the Intel x86 architecture . But then again, occupying center stage of many companies transaction processing, it’s going to get really busy really soon and faster systems will prove a blessing. No more so than when it comes to the changing landscape of mobile device usage. In his article “Survival of the fittest – NonStop in mobile networks” published in the May/June 2014 issue of The Connection, HP Telecom Business Development Manager, Rene Champagne, observed how “Modern usage of mobile services has shifted from voice and text as the primary services, towards mobile broadband services. Real-time services based on smartphone apps are the defining characteristics of this decade.”

It’s hard to argue against this observation and the importance of this shift, Champagne went on to note was that, “The real-time nature of these apps makes service interruptions immediately apparent as social media updates cease to operate, and as services such as cloud storage become unavailable.” When it came to quoting the results from studies undertaken by the European Union Agency for Network and Information Security (ENISA), specifically their second Annual Incidents Reports, Champagne highlighted that availability was still very much an issue. “The determination that the root cause for most incidents was ‘System failures’, and that ‘hardware failures’ were the most common root causes,” Champagne quoted from the report even as the report  noted how this determination, “diverges from general IT norms which generally find that operations and administration, and software failures are the most common outage sources.”

Remaining steadfastly focused on the task of providing NonStop availability with near linear scalability for forty plus years may not have been a bad thing to do, after all. Even as system failures and hardware failures happen less frequently, the impact of failures observed by many customers can quickly become a different kind of spectacle, and one quite likely to make the evening news. The increased dependency on mobile devices and their ability to initiate mission critical transactions is only the beginning as it will not just be humans on the other end of the line but machines.

The impact of the Internet of Things (IoT), and in particular, as HP Master Technologist, Justin Simonds,  has been highlighting in his recent presentations, the Internet of Mission-Critical Things, where outages not only will disrupt production lines and transportation but healthcare and even security will be hard to ignore. One thing we can be very sure about is that with the arrival of such streams of information, changes will be constant and necessary. As we transition to the world of small, highly focused, apps keeping up with it all will be a challenge for all but the most mature of infrastructures.

In the real-time IT world systems, platforms, operating systems, middleware and applications are all providing updates about their operational status, I suggested in the post to the WebAction blog, In a Realtime World, NonStop Customer Experience Can Change in an Instant! A constant barrage of data makes tracking the performance of an application difficult; who can tell whether basic SLA metrics are being met? Add into this the added complexity that comes with hybrid computers, not to mention the use of clouds and the task befalling those responsible for ensuring customers are being served in a timely manner appears more like black magic than pure science. Yes, availability still matters and HP being pragmatic about this key attribute of NonStop is something we can all be very proud of – outages today are simply unacceptable.

The support of things, the majority of which are likely to be machine sensors and instruments including the many such devices present in our cars, may not all be supercritical or warrant the supporting technology infrastructure that we associate with NonStop, but with increasing legislation and a healthy appetite from some market segments such as insurance, one man’s nice-to-have may very likely be another man’s must-have and command the presence of the most available systems possible. In an earlier post to the WebAction blog, How Will the Internet of Things Impact Streaming Data? WebAction Director of Marketing, Jonathan Geraci, made similar observations. Referencing research by Forbes journalist, Mike Kavis, Geraci states that, “This sentiment is aligned with our thoughts that we are moving away from a software world of ‘query/response’ (ask a question, get an answer) and moving toward the sensing enterprise.”

Building on this sentiment, Geraci then goes on to suggest that, “In the sensing enterprise software monitors your streams of data and acts autonomously to specific correlated events in your streams. The IoT drastic increase in the number of connected devices will dramatically increase streaming data volume, velocity, and variety. The next logical question is how will you handle all of the streaming data from the Internet of Things? The WebAction platform provides stream analytics applications that are extremely efficient and easy to use.” And yes, as we are now seeing, WebAction supports the many logs and event files that are maintained on a typical NonStop system.  

In my most recent exchange with HP’s Simonds, he reiterated the value that comes from being as pragmatic as the HP NonStop R&D team has demonstrated to be through the years. When it comes to NonStop systems, everyone involved knows of the “very clear mission – to build a computer that won’t fail.  All our development is in sync with the mission and every developer hardware and software has to answer the question ‘what happens when this fails?’ Not if, but when.” Yes, all those years ago, Simonds notes, “Tandem was the first to have no single point of failure.  That has been copied.  Tandem was the first to have online repair.  That has been copied.  But NonStop after 40 years is still rated by IDC as an Availability Level 4 (AL4), a full level higher than any clustered system.  NonStop still has the lead but many systems are catching up.  That’s why I am very happy that Wendy is relooking at Indestructible, Scalable Computing.”

When Margo and I first turned a wheel on a race track it was in a fully automatic Corvette – the C6 Corvette in the picture above - it was for very pragmatic reasons; it allowed us to concentrate on learning the track. Trust me; when it’s your first time on a track, you are looking everywhere to make sure you don’t hit another driver. With the volume, velocity, and variety of data streaming into our data centers, having a system rated an AL4 lets you worry about the processing and all that such processing entails without having to look down at the console to see which process is actually running and whether failures have occurred at a critical time. Can you believe it? NonStop thriving after all these years?

To be truthful, perhaps we should be going back to our CIOs and asking how alternate offerings survived at all – being pragmatic, of course, perhaps CIOs already know of this and have a lot more to do with the longevity of NonStop than we care to acknowledge. Maybe NonStop isn’t as big a secret as some of us suspect and maybe, just maybe, a spectacle isn’t really what a CIO is looking for today! 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

My financial advisor talks IoT?

It is not my thing, really, to join strangers for dinner – I tried a couple of times and did not want any part of it.  Yet, when my financial advisor sent me an invitation to the annual client conference to be held at Four Seasons Hotel in Denver, where the topic would be Rise of the Machines, after reading the description it was clear we should not miss it. “A new wave of disruptive innovation is upon us. Intelligent machines – from driverless cars and commercial drones to medical robots – have advanced enormously in sophistication, and falling prices make them increasingly accessible, the promotion said. “Join us to hear what we think they will mean for the markets, the economy, and your portfolio.” I sent a RSVP promptly to let them know Richard and I were in!

The IoT buzz started some 18 – 24 months ago, riding on the cattails of the Big Data. Of course IoT in reality is way older, as we all became aware when the plane that wasn’t found yet was sending engine information to its manufacturer.  Closer to home? A conversation with our friend who had a pacemaker installed and who was called by the hospital while she was going home – they asked her to get right back as her pacemaker was sending disturbing messages. WTH! She had no idea she had a talkative device planted inside her!

Just this week Apple came out with its watch – and if you read AARP magazine (yours or your parents’) you will see at least 4 ads in each issue for the life saving medical alert devices. Apple will eat creators’ of these devices lunch, so I think it is only fair that I’ll eat my financial advisor’s dinner while listening to the talk! As I wrote this, my phone rang – somebody offering a free life saving device – just sign in for the monitoring program!  It’s been only a few days since Apple announcement but already near-panic is setting in!

All I can think about is who is going to process, store and act upon the information all the things are providing. Most of the applications that my financial advisor mentioned, and most that I’ve encountered so far, are critical in nature, and it is unthinkable that the data could get lost, action delayed, or even worse, be compromised by the criminal or terror-minded person or group; the scenario of someone tapping into a pacemaker has been played countless times, by various folks, petrified of the power that is being unleashed. Yes, it’s all on the Internet! Almost every hospital went ahead and added a power generator so as not to be caught out by power outages in the middle of the medical procedure; have they all got a live backup system for the medical data they are collecting?

The presentation at the dinner last night did not deal with the processing of all the information machines are generating. Nobody wanted clients to get upset, so there was no discussion of risks. Most of the audience wasn’t technically inclined anyway, and I thought the level of the presentation was quite appropriate – we got an assurance that the researchers at the firm are aware of the trends and analyze to their heart’s content over the impact these trends have on clients’ portfolios. As dumbed-down as the presentation proved to be,  it  spoke of the specter of even greater volumes of data yet to come.


The topic of Rise of the Machines brought a little smile, though, as I recalled recent videos by Martin Fink – you will need The Machine to process all the data the machines produce, won’t you now?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Read the news? NonStop information presentation powered by InkaBinka!

Mobility is bringing with it advantages that benefit us all but in our quest to be constantly informed about what’s going on – in the business world at large, as well as  within our company – it’s mandating changes to how we deliver content.

It seems more than sensible to spend time in America’s southwest at this time of year. Polar Vortexes, snow storms swinging down from the Pacific Northwest, and any number of frigid ice-bound days is enough to have any sane person pulling out roadmaps and checking upcoming conference schedules to see if any might be in a warmer location. Fortunately, I received press passes to two important industry events – one in Las Vegas, Nevada,  organized by ATMIA (the ATM Industry Association) with the other in Phoenix, Arizona, organized by BAI (which stands for Bank Administration Institute, but is better known as the organizers of the annual Retail Delivery show). No matter how you describe the benefits that come through participation the first thought that comes to mind at this time of year is that these are very warm places to visit.

While I have already covered some aspects of the ATMIA event in posts to this blog, the BAI event proved every bit as interesting and indeed intriguing, as the earlier event in Las Vegas overlapped on the more obvious topics. Interesting? Of course both events brought out a sizable vendor presence, with many vendors familiar to all in the NonStop community. Intriguing? With the emphasis heavily skewed towards mobility, the challenges for Financial Institutions (FIs) became clear from the very first presentation. Obvious? No skirting the issue when it comes to FIs, security remains front and center but I will leave to a later post further discussion on security.

“In general, it’s not easy to simply add features,” said one consultant during a panel session. When it comes to today’s smartphones, “It becomes far too dense and difficult to find” a reference to the limitations that can come with providing feature rich apps. “Perhaps it’s a case of going back to supporting an app that does just one thing,” the consultant concluded, even if “this flies in the face of the promoting ‘if we add more features, we will generate more interest and hence, more usage.” All of us at some point have had to squint particularly hard just to see what icon to tap, let alone expand to a readable size some important message or email.

However, there’s no getting away from the impact smart phones and tablets are having on our lives. In a promotional email from IDG Connect on March 6, 2015, the opening lines were hard to ignore.  “It's no secret that the use of smart phones is exploding. According to a recent report from the Pew Research Center, 34% Americans go online mostly using their phones, and not using some other device such as a desktop or laptop computer.” And therein lies confirmation of the dilemma we all face – even as we modernize our applications, are they a good fit for the form factor supported by a mobile phone, and indeed, are we pursuing presenting more even as we require less real estate? Clearly, the truck driver observed at last year’s NonStop Advanced Technical Boot Camp understood that big objects in his pickup weren’t a good fit for the underground garage!

For more on this I turned to my good friend, Kevin McGushion, CEO of InkaBinka. From the first time I stepped into his garage and posted of his accomplishments from such a humble workshop, Kevin has continued to amaze with what he conceives and then brings to market – his InkaBinka has been featured at HP Discover 2014 in Las Vegas and Barcelona. “Information today is in ‘long format’ which is best consumed using a desktop (large) device. Mobile devices are now much more convenient; however, the information available hasn’t changed to fit this much smaller form factor,” said Kevin.

Going deeper into the approach he is taking with InkaBinka, we have “created the bridge by processing the currently available information into a format that is tailored for today’s mobile world. Vast amounts of information are created in long form every day, which makes it less accessible for our “Twitter-ized” world; not to mention our shorter attention spans.  From news articles to internal corporate documents to Google search, information is too long and much of it is superfluous. By distilling Big Info and making it available for quick mobile consumption and presentation, people now have new access to important information, in their hands and in seconds.”

InkaBinka has developed powerful and unique Natural Language Processing (NLP) technology, according to Kevin, “that allows it to summarize large content into concise bullets in near real time.  This is based on a self-learning algorithm created by InkaBinka that reads articles, extracts keyword, context, and sentiment analysis and applies our abstraction technology.  With abstraction as opposed to extraction, new concepts and sentences are created from a corpus of documents or a single story.” It is self-learning, and by this Kevin means InkaBinka, “understands subtle things like when Syria is a country or when it is a girl’s name.”

For the NonStop community, think of this as a new, modern way to display content. We all live in a constantly evolving business climate where it’s becoming much harder to stay abreast of important information exchanges – key messages may be buried deep within an email chain or be a partial quote in a press release. How are we expected to find a needle in essentially a stack of needles, as I heard it described recently in a popular television show. The challenge for everyone in the NonStop community, whether part of the financial community or not, is how to best utilize the smaller form factor supported by today’s mobile phones. Whether we are discussing the latest monitoring solution, the results of a database inquiry, or simply presenting an invoice, statement or balance – being able to refine the information to where it only takes a couple of lines to present is becoming the focal point for many companies.

Just recently, InkaBinka developers pointed their technology at a recent blog posting of mine (on Real Time View) and boiled it down to the essential three to four points. Cool – and yes, it was accurate. So, here’s the scoop. I believe enterprises are drowning in information and the higher up the organization you climb, the less time there is to read everything. Take emails, for instance. How do you know which emails to read, and then which ones you are being copied on simply out of courtesy or for protocol reasons? Ouch; so, a language that can analyze information on the fly and reduce content to readable summaries, I believe, will prove beneficial to all engaged in database access, including Big Data, not to mention any social media for corporate use .

However, is InkaBinka truly unique? What about Flipboard? Reddit? Not to mention my own go-to site, LinkedIn? Taking Reddit as just one example, Kevin notes that “InkaBinka is the only technology that uses NLP to create four concise, abstracted bullet points that summarize a story.  All other aggregators simply use the headline, in some cases the byline and a link to the article. After a reader clicks in they are left to the drudgery of reading 2000 words, which almost no one does.” As a for instance, Kevin noted, “After you click the Reddit link to the Harrison Ford story you are taken out to the long read; Reddit has no value add other than to post virtually everything in title form at their site which requires more time than anyone has to read through.  It’s more a site to post cat photos and memes, really. This comparison is true for Flipboard, Facebook, Linkedin, Circa, Feedly, News 360, and all traditional news sites (CNN, ABC, FOX, NBC, LA Times, NY Times, etc.). Yahoo News Digest attempts to summarize but still is paragraphs long and bit-of-news does a manual summary of about 4 stories a day and it is very non-visual.”

For the NonStop community, it’s not only interesting because of the changes it fosters with content presentation but also because of the relationship InkaBinka enjoys with HP. Running today on Moonshot and implemented using Node.js, it provides insight as to one possible direction NonStop may be likely heading. While the HP Moonshot team is focused intently on building a presence in the marketplace, already I see great potential in having NonStop reside on Moonshot cartridges at some point – supported by HP NonStop R&D directly or via proxy that includes a NonStop partner.

With NonStop X about to launch and Node.js support coming from a NonStop partner even as so much is being discussed about possible hybrid solutions it’s as if the moons are aligning for even greater NonStop engagement with some of the most creative applications on the planet. Today InkaBinka is focused on making sure we can read the news on our smartphones easily and quickly, it doesn’t take too much imagination to consider all sorts of possibilities when it comes to pointing InkaBinka at NonStop. Will this happen at some point? As Kevin quickly points out, if the market for such a product becomes apparent, “we could turn on a dime to address it!”

Getting out of the office to listen to users and vendors alike – even if the temperature is more conducive to sunbathing by the pool – trumps reading articles and trolling through web sites any time. Getting enough background for any story is always an issue, particularly as the number of sources continues to grow almost exponentially. InkaBinka is certainly looking to fix this and the mere fact that the company executives are talking with as one-eyed a NonStop commentator as exists today, is a very good sign. My imagination may run wild from time to time but is that a necessarily a bad thing?

NonStop is a thriving business and the greater the openness, the greater the commoditization, the wider the net can be cast and who knows, it’s not inconceivable that one day, I will be accessing EMS events on my smartphone via InkaBinka-powered monitoring solutions! 

Friday, February 27, 2015

NonStop in the “technology mix” for IT? Sounds reasonable …

Among IT professionals, when discussions turn to hybrids, it’s not just hybrid clouds being talked about but hybrid systems and for the NonStop community, this includes hybrids featuring the latest NonStop X systems …

I recently passed a car with a bumper sticker: “Yes, it’s a hybrid, it burns both gas & rubber!” One’s perspective on the environment may differ from others’, and sometimes quite radically, but even so, there’s a sense that whatever interests us and wherever our pursuits take us, if we can leave the environment better off, then that is to the benefit of us all. Saying anything more on this matter however, as the majority of the U.S. shivers under the impact of a severe and lengthy winter deep freeze, may prove controversial (and it has nothing to do with the rest of this post), but even so, the cold has many of us wondering where global warming has gone.

Living on Colorado I have become a big fan of natural gas – a sentiment I shared with others when I lived in Australia. For a very long time the option to power vehicles with Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) has proved to be popular among Australian drivers and with the abundant supply of natural gas, now apparent to everyone pretty much everywhere we look (in the U.S. LPG is known as Propane, and referred to as Autogas), it’s still amusing to hear the debates on whether more refueling stations should be built and whether manufacturers should provide support for LPG on many more vehicles.

Despite all the talk, I fully expect to see at some point hybrid cars that are powered by combinations of LPG / electric just as I anticipate seeing diesel / electric hybrids sometime soon. The point of mixing technologies to better meet the needs of users has become a proven winner for many within industry and so, mixing technologies for IT sounds every bit as reasonable, and already from the messages coming from multiple vendors, it would seem that the day of practical hybrids is fast approaching.

I have been writing about the emergence of hybrid computers within the NonStop community for some time, and with each post, and the subsequent discussions that arise on LinkedIn groups, the degree of interest climbs. For as long as I have been involved with NonStop, there’s been a very strong argument to be made for making very sure everything supporting an application on NonStop stays on NonStop, as the all-important availability attribute is only as strong as the weakest link. Push processes off-platform and onto Windows and the expectation of availability levels we associate with NonStop is immediately lowered. Why bother, some have argued, to even use NonStop systems if part of the application proves vulnerable because of the inherent frailty of the secondary system.

Before getting any deeper into this post, for the sake of clarity, when it comes to NonStop X and hybrids, “a hybrid does not need to co-exist in the same chassis,” according to Manager, HP NonStop Product Management, Karen Copeland. “It can be an overall application configuration where different parts of the solution run on different systems that communicate with each other in real time to be seen as one application by the user, while using the best of breed for different parts of the system.”


The likelihood of reaching out to another system on the far side of the data center will be one option many CIOs will consider, and the way I hear it, where NonStop X is already being tested. The most important consideration by everyone in the NonStop community when thinking of hybrids, I was told, was to think big! Don’t limit your thinking about the value hybrid computing will bring based on past projects or what you read in the popular press!  

IBM has had hybrids for some time now. With their mainframes, the opportunity to configure both zOS and zLinux in the same mainframe has been an option for many – particularly when zLinux supports the front-end presentation services and page serving and zOS supports the database and some of the heavy-lifting associated with mission-critical transaction processing. Very much a working model for what HP will likely begin promoting aggressively with NonStop X and x86 Linux, now that we can expect to see both sharing the same chassis at some point it will be hard to imagine modernization projects in the future that don’t take advantage of such an option.

Unfortunately for IBM, but potentially good news for HP, a renewed push to right-size IBM has seen mainframe customers doubting the future of the mainframe – not from a technology standpoint but in terms of future support, along with consulting services. None of this has lessened IBM’s enthusiasm for hybrids and for those who may be interested, check out the latest IBM’s press release
IBM Cloud Makes Hybrid a Reality for the Enterprise.

My interest in what was prototyped by the HP NonStop solutions architects some time ago, under the general banner of Persistent Cloud Services (or, Guardian Angel) that was subsequently productized by InfraSoft as maRunga, goes back to my own appreciation that in Pathway may be the very glue that holds hybrids of NonStop and Linux together; in so doing, throwing the mantle of Pathway over systems apart from NonStop. Pathway Advanced Cluster Services (ACS) extended the reach of Pathway to adjacent NonStop nodes under the single definition of a domain, so why not continue expanding the reach of Pathway to include nodes other than NonStop, such as Linux. This is now evolving into the current message for maRunga, and while there’s still further refinement of maRunga required, InfraSoft remains committed to working with other vendors to capitalize on this product to better serve hybrid systems anchored by NonStop.

This reference to clouds, and cloud computing, turns the dialogue back to where hybrids first begun entering mainstream discussions. At the center of these discussions was the expectations of the enterprise – would they simply abandon all that they had invested in to date, or rather, complement select applications with processes running on much cheaper platforms. This question was addressed recently in comments to a discussion on the LinkedIn group,
Mission Critical Systems Forum (facilitated by Oracle). In response to the question, Are legacy systems a hindrance, or just the fall guys when things go wrong?, Ed Carp, a Linux Guru, observed that, “Contrary to the original article's assertions, legacy systems ‘just run’. As another poster pointed out, some are always looking for the next big thing - moving away from Java or whatever ‘because it's become legacy’”.

However, more importantly for the NonStop community, Carp then wrote that, “Moving to the cloud, while it sounds sexy and new and attractive, just pushes problems of scalability, reliability, security, and backup control to someone else's plate - and when your cloud provider goes down or just goes away, where's your data? How do you know who's managing it is reliable and keeping it secure?” This of course, touches a nerve of every NonStop proponent, but then Carp finished with how, “It seems to me that moving to the cloud as the sole option without a failover to locally cached data is a recipe for failure - and if you have to manage local data as well, why bother with the cloud, with the issue of network latency - unless you're running multiple locations (then data in the cloud becomes more of a win for you) - it just becomes an added expense”.

Could we see not just a hybrid made up of NonStop X and x86 Linux, sharing a common chassis or not, but also a hybrid of NonStop with one or more Clouds and where Pathway throws its mantle over the lot? Again, I anticipate that something like this will eventually prove extremely tempting to some in the NonStop community. When you look at the vendor community some are likely to opt to explore such configurations. As have been well documented to date, OmniPayments, Inc. now has its solutions operating from within a cloud, all based on NonStop, but imagine the potentially greater TCO, should some processes be run on Linux within the cloud. In his article, Payment-card transaction switching via the cloud, just published in the Jan – Feb, 2015, issue of The Connection, CEO, Yash Kapadia, observes that while it’s “not a general cloud offering for running customer applications” all the same, “it is a Software as a Service (SaaS) cloud that specifically provides financial-transaction-switch services via HP NonStop servers.

Yash is not alone, as many of my clients provide products capable of running on either NonStop or Linux – and most of them, from a common code base. Whether there are issues of DMZ placement, as in the case of security or simply access to a richer presentation toolset, vendors including IR, WebAction, InfraSoft and DataExpress all seem to be well-suited to exploiting any mix of NonStop and Linux, whether found in a shared-chassis or in a NonStop overseen cloud.

According to Michelle Marost, President of DataExpress, “With as much talk as there is these days of the benefits derived from building hybrid computers around NonStop, and having the extra flexibility of selecting where DataExpress runs that only adds to the benefits that come with our secure managed file transfer suite.” IR is well positioned to provide a single pane of glass to monitor hybrids, even as WebAction has begun demonstrating the potential to track adherence to SLAs that span hybrid environments. WebAction Cofounder and EVP, Sami Akbay, was quick to observe that when it comes to, "Realtime process monitoring, alerting, and workflow enablement across hybrid systems is just one area where WebAction excels. We see this service as part of the future landscape for all enterprise systems."

The industry is behind deploying hybrids even if it is in support of hybrid clouds. Vendors within the NonStop community are prepared and are essentially looking for the first implementations – yes, news from HP supports this new direction with, apparently, a handful of new NonStop X hybrids already under test at customer sites. Perhaps most important of all for the NonStop community, new markets may be fueled following the option to run NonStop from within a cloud. As Yash noted, “Special consideration is given to mid-size retailers who have grown large enough to afford their own transaction-switching systems. OmniCloud can offer such retailers dedicated systems. These systems still run in OmniCloud, but they relieve the retailers of the purchasing and operation costs of obtaining their own system”.

And therein lays the real story of hybrid based on NonStop – becoming price attractive in markets where NonStop may still be considered expensive. The move to be fully commodity-based, together with the option to run standalone in hybrid configurations with other systems or indeed clouds, with the flexibility to support modern languages and platforms, is among the biggest message about the new NonStop X coming from HP. NonStop cannot be ruled out of any market or industry or from any use-case scenario – when it comes to technology and solutions, the enterprise today has many options that can be pursued and mixing technologies for IT sounds every bit as reasonable. Including NonStop now, as an option, will certainly draw greater attention and for NonStop to be in the mix is good news indeed for every member of the NonStop community. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Death of big projects?

A trip to Las Vegas is a reminder than not all big projects succeed and the story of failed big projects isn’t limited to construction as experienced IT professionals will quickly point out – but the issue today is whether small has become the new big!

This week has me back in Las Vegas for another event, the ATM Industry Association (ATMIA) US Conference, 2015. Under the overall banner of enhancing the consumer’s self-service experience, it has attracted the usual crowd of ATM vendors, payments solutions providers as well as all the service providers on the periphery of the ATM ecosystem. Among the sponsors are some familiar names, and it’s good to see a healthy representation from the NonStop community, and conversations started as soon as I left the registration desk. However, it was the familiar sites of the Las Vegas skyline that really caught my attention this week.

If you recall the last post to this blog, that of February 6, 2015, Of hubs and spokes; of niches, clouds and beyond the horizon; it all looks good for NonStop X! it contained the familiar site of the Las Vegas tower – home to the Stratosphere casino and hotel. The picture was taken from the window of my hotel, but this time, even though I am staying in the same hotel, my window faces the opposite direction and so the picture I have included above is of the view from this window. In case it is not obvious, the image represents an almost-completed site that has been standing abandoned for more than three years. Having changed hands a number of times, there’s still no indication as to when the development will be completed and yet, its primary building dominates this northern end of the famous Las Vegas strip.

It is not alone, however, as across the street and a little closer to the main attractions on the strip, is an even bigger vacant property sitting on 87 acres, the Asian-themed Resort World. With an access road already renamed Resort World Drive, there’s only a minimal number of structures visible with very little evidence that any work is being done whatsoever. At the other end of the strip, across the road from the Mandalay Bay complex, sit a couple of incomplete support structures for yet another Ferris Wheel for Las Vegas, even as the Vegas High Roller Wheel - the world’s largest observation wheel – has been completed and is operational. With rebar clearly rusting, these abandoned support structures are yet another reminder that not every major project in this city makes it to fruition.

When it comes to major projects floundering, many major IT projects have suffered similar fate. Back in the 1970s, during my trip to the US, there were advertisements placed by the Australian retailer, Myers in the American edition of Computerworld looking for experienced IT executives. Describing their need for additional resources for the biggest retail IT project ever, and offering starting salaries well above what any Australian IT manager had seen before, the project called for building two new data centers, equipping them both with some of the biggest IBM mainframes available at the time, and bringing online processing to every store, complete with online access to centralized databases. This was, at best, adventurous for the times (remember, 4800 baud communication’s lines), while at worst, a risky investment of corporate funds. Meyers did make it eventually, but after several delays and a move to distributed processing. More importantly, the financial overruns were fodder for numerous financial commentaries that made headlines even in the mainstream media.

Retailers, banks and government agencies are famous for the big projects they pursue. Many in the NonStop community will recall as I do the huge undertakings initiated by the Australian banks, Westpac (Core System 90?) and ANZ (a new platform proposed jointly by Dell and Microsoft?). These were equally famous for the many decision reversals that occurred along the way. I happened to be in the offices of a Westpac IT executive who calmly told me of the just-made, forward-thinking, decision to go with distributed IBM Series/1 computers at a time when their only use appeared to be to fill up empty warehouses (alongside, of course, the many unsold rebadged Stratus computers – the infamous IBM System/88).

Not everything big that we dream up comes to fruition, nor does the big idea develop into the game-changing, disruptive and innovative solution its proponents promise. However, apart from the news about failed outsourcing projects, of late there has been little news about the pursuit of the big project by an enterprise. So little news in fact that there’s been stories written about the death of big projects, given so few enterprises have the stomach anymore to tackle anything involving multiple years. Selling any project that may outlive the CIO’s likely residence in the corner office is becoming even more difficult to accomplish, so much so that for all intents and purposes, the big project has completely faded from the IT scene.

In the March, 2015, edition of the eNewsletter, Tandemworld, my Musings on NonStop column touches on the topic of big projects. Not so much about the death of big projects, but rather, the flip side of the topic – have all the big applications been written and has the need for big projects become a moot point? That is, with nothing big needing to be developed, are we approaching a time of change rather than a time to reboot with completely new processes? There’s no longer a situation where empty box outlines, describing functionality needed by the business, remain unfilled waiting, as it were, for a new product to appear on the horizon. Furthermore, I suggested, have all the applications been written? And just as importantly, is the science, or indeed art of large-scale application-writing, heading for the trash can? Will we all be witnesses to the death of the development of further enterprise applications?

Continuing with this idea, I then wrote that there will be exceptions, of course, but in general a strong case can be made favoring enhancing what we now have versus looking for what is new. As much as this may sound sacrilegious to the IT faithful, the dawn of the mini-applications, or simply, Apps, is hitting the enterprise and making large enterprise projects that most of us are familiar with, looking oh, so 1990s, to paraphrase recent comments made by a Google executive. Again, “in this age of mobility and information” the core of what we need to do as a business has been done, for the most part, leaving the tweaking of processing and presentation to better serve customers on the move – yes, the always-on world is forcing a modernization of our applications like we haven’t seen, well, since client/server computing, and yes, perhaps since the first distributed computer came onto the scene.

In a recent email exchange with WebAction, Inc. Cofounder and EVP, Sami Akbay, on this very topic, Akbay suggested that, “Traditional applications are dying. These applications used to sit between people and computers. They were optimized for human generated data to be the input. Humans also consumed the output.” And by traditional applications, for the most part these were the very big applications we had seen developed in the late 1980s through to the late 1990s, that anchored much of the IT processing of every enterprise. However, while they remain, Akbay suggested that there were complementary projects underway at nearly all of these enterprises. “The new generation of small applications sit between machine generated data and an infrastructure fabric,” said Akbay. “The input data is predominantly machine generated. Humans consume the output. Also other applications consume the output but that's the next generation ‘connected applications’”.

With so many discussions of late on the topic of modernization, it is often overlooked that modernization is more than just dressing up the look and feel of older, legacy, applications. What was the subject of the big project, decades ago, and remains operational, only requires a new GUI, or so conventional wisdom suggests. For many enterprises this is indeed the modernization projects being pursued. On the other hand, the advent of modern languages and frameworks has also seen incremental functionality being provided using some of these modern languages. This is the subject of an upcoming article in the March / April, 2015, edition of The Connection magazine that I am co-writing with InfraSoft Pty Limited CTO, Neil Coleman. In this article, the merits of using Node.js running on NonStop X and support JavaScript is actively promoted and there’s very little today that is more modern that Node.js.

The landscape of Las Vegas is liberally littered with the evidence of the failed big project. IT history tells us that Las Vegas isn’t alone in this respect – the numerous times that the IT big project failed likely continues to outnumber the IT big project that succeeded. It may be cavalier of me to suggest that the days of the IT big project are over, but by many counts, this may be truer than we realize. Embellishing the applications that keep enterprises in business seems to be the new reality and adding small applications, as Akbay observes, will likely play a bigger role going forward. Having a choice to run new platforms on NonStop X systems only makes going down this path seem even more realistic.

Big projects dead? Just look around your IT department and look at who has the appetite for more big projects and you will readily see that small is now the new big. It may not be as glamorous, and less likely to capture the media’s attention, but then again, as long as baby-steps remain in vogue, as we see today with small applications, then the likelihood of anyone in the NonStop community grabbing the spotlight will be close to zero. Put that down as yet another positive attribute for going with NonStop and one I have to believe every CIO will welcome!      

Friday, February 6, 2015

Of hubs and spokes; of niches, clouds and beyond the horizon; it all looks good for NonStop X!

The topic of NonStop being deployed as a hub has been a consideration for decades with several initiatives kicked off during that time. But with the arrival of NonStop, will an intelligent price-competitive hub featuring NonStop X make a difference and prove valuable to users?

In the post of February 3, 2015, to Buckle-Up-Travel (my social blog), In truth, we are but travelers …, I comment on how I have become a traveler in the sense that what’s immediately beyond the horizon is important to me. Not the destination, nor the road itself, but rather the act of moving, of travelling, as I said, that really motivates me and keeps me well-grounded in what’s happening in the world outside my office. I don’t always make the right decisions about the form of transportation I use, but so long as it gets me pointed in the general direction I want to go, it’s all good! This reminds me of the quote from 1951 Alice in Wonderland animated movie when Alice said: “I give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it!”

However, this post isn’t so much about travelling as it is about the shared expectations that I have with many of you about the future of NonStop now that NonStop X is about to ship. While I am sketchy with details about who will be the first to use NonStop, even as I am completely in the dark about where the first NonStop X systems will appear, I have a sense that there will be numerous surprises in store for all of us as HP lifts the veil on Project Cognac. From the time I was first briefed I have had a hard time keeping the lid on what I saw as a potential game changer, but now, the conversation has truly started and bit by bit, the expectations for NonStop X are beginning to see daylight.

A short time ago I started a discussion on the LinkedIn group, Tandem User Group, where I asked for members (willing to do so) to “provide a comment as to what you see as priority for HP as it starts selling NonStop X in 2015”. Among the responses was one from HP Master Technologist, Justin Simonds. In the past Simonds has been upbeat about all things NonStop so seeing him respond to the question didn’t come as a surprise. For Simonds, it was a case of reminding members that, “As I've said to anyone who will listen, (the Internet of Things) IoT is going to be huge and (capturing) a very small percentage of that would be a boon to NonStop.”

However, Simonds then moves onto a more interesting observation as part of his response. “NonStop in the SaaS area is where I see NonStop in (the) cloud,” Simonds proposes.  “Opsol is doing a lot of work in that area and I believe there should be more. In terms of verticals I would like to see NonStop in Healthcare (back in Healthcare), back with a strong 911 offering and energy. I'd like to see NonStop get involved with Supply Chain again.” Before he completes his response, Simonds shifts into overdrive, noting how within HP NonStop development, “We had some excellent ideas back in the ZLE days and with some of the new datastreaming partners such as WebAction and Network Kinetix we could again offer up unique and compelling advantages. I could go on but you get the point. NonStop X should mark an uptick in NonStop awareness and deployment into new areas.”

Confirming Simonds observation, in my post of February 3, 2015, In Novel Ways … WebAction for NonStop X Will Change the Way Business Operates! I reference WebAction’s Jonathan Geraci even as he agreed with Simonds, making the observation that, “With the arrival of HP NonStop X, companies will have the opportunity to use NonStop in novel ways.” Furthermore, I wrote, “NonStop systems have always been about ease of use and ease of management, but in supporting x86 the value proposition of NonStop takes a big turn in the right direction – lower overall Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).” The promise of even greater commoditization along with competitive pricing, can only help aid an uptick in NonStop awareness and with the turmoil IBM is going through right now re layoffs, even the staunchest of NonStop foes may concede NonStop X changes the game.

For many members within the NonStop community there are few fond memories of ZLE and yet, at the time, it was a bold move and one where perhaps HP NonStop development faulted as it crossed the starting line. Nevertheless, ZLE built on a lot of early work – remember some slideware in the 1990s in support of intelligent networks, etc. – and in its day ZLE had the potential for being a game-changer for IT. However, should we take a second look at ZLE and is there an opportunity to revisit its role as we near general availability of NonStop X systems?

Former ITUG Chair, Janice Reeder-Highleyman, wrote in the Nov – Dec, 2014, issue of The Connection about ZLE. In her feature, OmniPayment’s Yash Kapadia Was Happily Retired Until His Wife Demanded He Return to Work, Reeder-Highleyman includes the following comment, “Yet another Tandem / Opsol collaboration was the execution of ZLE for Tandem.” Naturally, this caught my attention as did the observations that followed. “Yash believed that there was more potential for ZLE than Tandem realized, so Opsol negotiated the acquisition of Tandem ZLE’s intellectual property rights. Soon after, ZLE was reborn as Opsol’s OmniHub, a NonStop data integration solution for companies requiring IT infrastructure integration in order to capture a single view of their customers’ transactional activities.”

For me, this was an open invitation to check directly with OmniPayments, Inc. CEO, Yash Kapadia, to find out more about the influence of ZLE on his products and Yash didn’t disappoint. “Whenever a customer purchases OmniPayments there’s a strong case to be made for the purchase of OmniHub. Our clients see the potential value from OmniHub being the seamless integration of application code with as many banking or retail channels as they need supported – whether online banking, mobile banking or ATMs and POSs, OmniHub ensures any transaction can be accessed by customers no matter the channel selected.” Yes, sounds a lot like what I had previously read about ZLE.

In the real world, OmniHub has found customers and today, according to Yash, “We have deployed OmniHub in combination with OmniPayments at several Financial Institutions (FIs) including Banco Popular Puerto Rico (BPPR), as well as for the Mexican retailer, Casa Ley, and companies operating financial switches including one of the most recent wins for OmniPayements on NonStop systems, Carvajal.” For each of these customers, OmniHub has enabled customers to leverage functionality across different delivery channels greatly simplifying the customers’ support.

“When it comes to business services, what is provided today with OmniHub is that OmniPayments users can access numerous Business Logic Modules (BLMs). These include processes in support of OmniSCV (single customer view, OmniOffers (personalization) and OmniSI Server (stand-in processing) but what’s also worth keeping in mind is that adding new channels and new services is not complex.” Yash then added. “This can be accomplished with configuration changes and by accommodating additional data sets that reflect data from existing legacy services that need to be centralized on OmniHub. Such data sets can be easily created using the browser-based console.”

Supporting what Simonds had written to the LinkedIn group discussion, Yash then told me that as he “looked further ahead, with OmniHub supporting real-time access to all information and all relations of the customer with the bank, there is business intelligence available on consolidated and real-time data gathered by OmniHub and with Big Data / Analytics initiatives under way at many FIs, it’s a logical place for OmniPayments to provide the necessary interfaces and services in support of Big Data.” All up, a nice segue observation, as Simonds clearly observed, into the work being done by companies such as WebAction.

As for the mechanics about how OmniHub works, especially in light of what was leveraged from the earlier work done in support of ZLE, “OmniHub supports a variety of interfaces that enable easy integration of numerous channels, including TCP/IP, CORBA, SOAP/XML, HTTP, MQ, Tuxedo, Pathway and SNA. Addition of new channels and new services is not complex,” said Yash. “Should HP NonStop add support for external connections via InfiniBand (IB) following the introduction of NonStop X, then such support could be easily added via OmniHub.” Indeed, the more I consider the role of a modern day ZLE-like hub, the more the work being done in support of hybrids featuring NonStop X and Linux X, the more I am inclined to think the former sins of ZLE may have finally been excised.

When I posed the prospect of hybrid configurations based on NonStop X finding newfound popularity within modern data centers, Yash was very forthcoming with his observations on hybrids. “Even as there’s considerable talk across the NonStop community about hybrid X systems, comprised of NonStop X and Linux X (all on x86 blades, housed in the same chassis / cabinet), such hybrids will help reduce the cost of the hardware needed to support FIs,” said Yash. OmniPayments embraced hybrid architecture and according to Yash, “We see opportunities to leverage such systems should they come from HP. We have been deploying a hybrid architecture for some time that includes both NonStop and Linux and with HP contemplating further hybrid development, this would be very easy for us to support. OmniHub would most likely play a key role as it is a function of OmniHub to support channels no matter the protocol or services provided.”


And OmniPayments isn’t alone when it comes to hubs and hybrids. In the post of January 9, 2013 to the IR blog, Datacenters with hybrid systems; challenges persist for all who monitor… IR VP of Products, John Dunne, reassured me that, “If our customers determine that there’s value in having the oversight of the heterogeneous mix of systems, so typical of a modern data center, then IR will continue to ensure Prognosis features communicate with each other!” Likewise, in my opinion paper featuring DataExpres, DataExpress moves the data in a secure and managed manner that can now be downloaded from the DataExpress website, I quote DataExpress President, Michelle Marost, after she said, “With as much talk as these days of the benefits from building hybrid computers around NonStop, having the extra flexibility of selecting where DataExpress runs only adds to the benefits that come with DataExpress.”

Throughout the decades I have been involved in IT I have witnessed the pendulum swinging between distributed and centralized computing. Often this was driven by vendors promoting their proprietary systems as satellites – a useful way to introduce new technology into a customer’s data center with the intent of displacing the incumbent technology provider. Hub and spokes, hierarchies, networks, on- and off-premise, time sharing, service bureaus and even clouds, anyone with any sense of history of IT has seen it all. With hybrid computers I sense just the latest iteration of a balanced approach to IT that combines many of the above elements in a more manageable fashion – just look at the latest capabilities of IR-Prognosis with their easy-to-configure, side-by-side, dashboards, all under a single pane of glass. 

Simonds included in his observation how the, “tight integration with Linux for composite type applications, where portions of a service run on Linux and portions run on Nonstop and with NonStop overseeing the service,” may prove to be an option much closer to reality than many within the NonStop community might appreciate. I was passing through Las Vegas a short time ago and couldn’t help but notice how the town continues to be optimistic and with a great room that gave me this view to the horizon, such optimism proved contagious. And yet, the ever present blue skies seemed to go on well beyond the horizon suggesting that there was still a lot more to come,. Yes, it’s all looking very good indeed for NonStop X where deployment options will only be limited by our imagination and just how creative we dare to be!