Thursday, April 17, 2014

Heroics that may be tolerated …

Who knew? The lessons learnt on the rugby field could apply to NonStop! Essentially, we are all wired differently …

For as long as I can recall I have had an interest in playing football. Not the round ball variety, but rugby. From the time I was six years old there would be a Wednesday afternoon practice at a delightful suburban ground, Primrose Park. By the time I made it to high school, I had become highly proficient at playing rugby league and my on-field heroics led to me representing first the district, then the zone, and finally, making the trials for the Australian schoolboy side. Even at a very early age, my instinct for the game was recognized by coaches at the highest level.

While I missed selection to the team - losing out to a youngster who eventually captained the senior team for Australia - I did come away with an offer from my coach of a contract to play for a Sydney professional team. As happenstance would have it, my parents refused point blank to sign any such thing; I had to stay in school! However, my enthusiasm for the game hasn’t waned in the least and I remain just as passionate today about all forms of rugby.

This weekend while I was skimming electronic copies of Sydney’s newspapers, I came upon the story, Rugby league is changing and we are powerless to stop it, by the former Rugby League broadcaster, journalist, and former player and coach, Phil Gould. Writing about parents’ concerns today over concussions, Gould said, “Only a very minute percentage of kids who take up this game are capable of actually making it to this level – and I can assure you they are wired very differently to the average kid playing junior league.” Gould then closed with, “But that’s the world we live in today. I can’t look at the world as I would like it to be. I have to look at the world as it is.”

When it comes to the NonStop community I often wonder about whether our passion for NonStop continues because we are wired very differently and whether it all has to do with us looking at the world as we would like it to be. Have we all taken to wearing blinkers and steadfastly ignored the hype surrounding cloud computing, big data and mobile computing? Surely, four decades on, NonStop has lost its luster - or has it? If we truly look at the world as it is, can we honestly say there’s still a need for NonStop systems?

In the February 26, 2014, IDC press release, Worldwide Server Market Revenues Decline -4.4% in the Fourth Quarter as Weak Midrange and High-end Server Demand Weighs on the Market, According to IDC  on first glance, the news wasn’t all that encouraging. However, there were some hidden gems all the same, including good news for the NonStop community. “HP and IBM were statistically tied for the number 1 position in the worldwide server systems market,” stated IDC. It then made some rather startling observations about IBM even as it celebrates 50 years of mainframe presence. “IBM experienced significant year-over-year declines in quarterly revenue for all three families of systems – System x, POWER Systems, and System z mainframes.”

System x of course includes IBM’s x86 servers, which IBM announced it had sold to Lenovo only days before, leaving IBM today with just systems reliant on the uniquely IBM’s POWER chip – essentially the only remaining proprietary RISC chip in the marketplace. Even as HP deftly navigates to a course that will see NonStop on x86 meeting the needs of mission-critical applications, along with Project Moonshot, which according to HP, are  “super energy-efficient and compact servers capable of running the world’s biggest webscale workloads.” Definitely a response to shifts taking place in the market mandating that IT everywhere looks at energy consumption as well as a lower-cost approach to the robustness and availability IT still values highly.

However, it was left to Computerworld to observe, in a story released January 21, 2014, Hardware torpedoes IBM's Q4 revenue, “System Z sales were down 37 percent, when compared to a very strong quarter a year ago.” Computerworld then added how “mainframe systems declined 26 percent, also compared to a very strong quarter a year ago.” Computerworld noted too how, “Other areas of hardware are feeling the impact of ‘business model issues due to market shifts,’ some of which is coming from pricing pressure from lower-cost hardware alternatives, according to Martin Schroeter, IBM chief financial.”

Now mainframes aren’t going to disappear any time soon nor is the NonStop system going to fade from the scene. Celebrating 40 and 50 year anniversaries hasn’t come about by accident, nor are the changes we are all witnessing likely to fuel the demise of either OS. However, NonStop seems to be doing a much better job of reinventing itself as a software solution capable of running on practically anything the chip vendors invent – big or little endian – whereas IBM has little appetite to stray too far from its highly promoted proprietary chips. Maintaining a POWER chip only presence is going to make mainframes even more expensive in time, no matter how many MIPS are squeezed out of the multi-cores on offer with POWER.

In a response to questions I asked a number of clients recently, it was left to comForte CTO, Thomas Burg, to sum up the sentiment among vendors best when he observed that, “of the current hot trends cloud computing, Big Data, mobile computing, BYOD, 3D printing at home – I would guess that at least one of them will NOT live as long as HP NonStop and IBM mainframe will.” We may be all wired differently as we continue to believe in NonStop but perhaps we only need to see more information being published. When challenged about our view of NonStop, all we need is a little relevant data to keep the pundits at bay.

Once again, the Australian state of Queensland was buffeted by another major storm, this time by Tropical Cyclone Ita. It crossed the coastline a little north of the popular tourist destination, Cairns, and headed south wreaking havoc on banana plantations as well as numerous townships. As the winds eased, several government officials visited the area, including David Crisafulli, Queensland’s minister for local government community, recovery, and resilience.

My immediate reaction, after reading of Queensland having someone responsible for recovery and resilience, was how such a position would help NonStop. Following some early hiccups with HP acquiring Compaq, the NonStop business has recovered rather well and is on a solid foundation. It’s proven yet again that as architecture, NonStop is extremely resilient. About all that’s missing from this story line now is greater visibility across IT – CIOs need to hear a lot more about NonStop from HP, and from us.

IBM may be suffering a little from the impact of business model issues due to market shifts and has a lot of work to do to better price the mainframe to compete with NonStop for the marketplaces NonStop serves (even as it struggles to pull together a plan to compete with Moonshot). However, I almost believe that IBM aggressively competing with HP servers across the board only helps sustain interest in NonStop –there’s never any bad publicity; it’s just publicity. It was left to Oscar Wilde to remark on how, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

I played a lot of rugby in my youth and even now I look back and wonder what would have happened if I had turned pro at an early age. With hindsight, I probably wouldn’t have lasted too long as my key strength eventually counted for naught. But I completely understand the observation that to succeed, you had to be wired differently and I have to believe, my parents would have agreed with Phil Gould in this respect. The occasional on-field heroics can only go so far in professional sports.

Now I am “playing a lot of NonStop” and am every bit as resilient as any other NonStop.  And I am not alone in this respect – NonStop may attract just a minute percentage of IT professionals, but it continues to be the halo product for HP and mission-critical applications. In the promotion for an upcoming cooking show, the slogan says “if you want to beat chef (Bobby Flay), you gotta have more than that to bring Bobby down!” and I hear this resonating with the NonStop community. If you truly want to compete with NonStop then you gotta have a lot more capabilities (than you have today), to which I can only say – and I am sure it resonates with many - “Bring it on!” 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Hey! You! Get off of my cloud.

There will be many articles and posts over the coming weeks on clouds, and on the impact on NonStop users, but hey, heads-up, the news here is all goodness! NonStop has every right to be considered as appropriate technology for deployment within the cloud …

So much attention of late is being given to “what’s trending?” Someone (self) important snaps a selfie with their smartphone, and immediately checks to see how it’s trending on Facebook, Twitter, and so forth. There’s an immediate response and a spike (in popularity) that may develop, but rarely is such actions rewarded over the long term. However, in many respects, the NonStop community is much the same – ever anxious about what’s trending!

Bucking a trend can be seen as being self-destructive, innovative, perhaps contrarian and going against the grain. In former times we simply dismissed this as idiotic or even eccentric, putting it down to bohemian lifestyles. It is therefore encouraging to read as much as I have been doing of late about what HP sees as its major focus areas. And nothing stands out more than the initiatives it has launched in support of cloud computing.

This week Boulder has been blessed with a little more blue sky than it has seen over the past couple of weeks. Temperatures are actually climbing towards 70F (20C), the trees in our yard are budding and it’s looking like spring is with us, once again. In a feature I just completed for the May / Jun, 2014, issue of The Connection magazine I opened with the lines that, with the coming of spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of baseball, or so fabled poet, Alfred Tennyson, might have written if he had lived in America.  Perhaps it might have been more appropriate to add that with the sunshine of spring, the clouds have become less threatening.

The lyrics above that I chose for this post’s title are from the song of the same name by the Rolling Stones. The song dates back almost half a century but their relevance, and indeed topicality, are hard to ignore. Paging through a HP presentation on cloud computing, provided by Justin Simonds, Master Technologist and a well-known NonStop solutions architect, it too included the same reference and it brought me back to the cyclical nature of our industry. Clouds are trending along all too familiar lines and none us should find this surprising.

The more things change, the more they stay the same!  Or so the proverb goes - plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. When I started in IT – about the same time as the Rolling Stones recorded their song – my company augmented IBM mainframes with mini computers, the Interdata Model 7/32. These systems are primarily remembered for being the first 32-bit minicomputers. But they are also remembered as being the first to use microcode to define an architecture that was heavily influenced by the IBM 360 instruction set. For us, assembler programmers, learning this new system was a piece of cake and the productivity the company was able to leverage was considerable.

Gaining acceptance among the hard-nosed IBM mainframe systems programmers was key and, with their acceptance, the first inroads by distributed systems were realized. Interdata are long gone as they failed to keep up. It took the compatibility to the mainframe to kick-start their early success, but in the years that followed a myriad of operating systems (OSs) appeared, each with programming languages that were different and instruction sets that had to be relearnt. Distributed computing was awash with options.

Fast forward to client server  (CS) computing where the initial servers were essentially extensions of the client, sharing the same OS, programming languages / models, but quickly, as the trend to CS accelerated (in the years preceding the advent of the internet), almost any combination of HW and SW could be deployed as a server; IBM even reclassified it’s mighty mainframe as a server – “
in 2000, IBM renamed the existing System/390 to IBM eServer zSeries

Now, the internet is supposed to be changing everything and in a way, it is. Financially, it’s hard to ignore the almost daily news accompanying the latest IPO or purchase with astronomical sums changing hands to what appears for many of us, old hands, trivial solutions. And yet, here again, the value is being driven by what’s trending upwards and that’s hard to argue against in a market-driven economy. Once comprehendible server farms are being displaced by cloud computing, where capacity on demand has fueled the equally comprehendible, elasticity of provisioning.

So here’s the $64 question – why do we think that, in time, clouds will not become all-inclusive with almost any combination of HW and SW being utilized? Why have we surrounded cloud computing with a language and indeed, almost “mythology” designed to put the fear of the almighty into CIOs less equipped to understand what’s really going on here - plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

There’s absolutely no reason why any solutions vendor would not be contemplating providing his application – in part or in whole – as a service from a cloud of any kind. “The gradual progression from server to server farm to cloud seems quite natural for us,” said OmniPayments Inc. CEO, Yash Kapadia. “When it comes to identifying where OmniPayments processes are running inside the cloud of NonStop we have set up, customers really can’t tell. It’s just somewhere in our data center and for us, ‘provisioning’ additional resources is relatively easy and more a function of the multi-tier architecture we have embraced. Can clouds only run on Linux or Windows? I don’t think so and we are getting no push back in the markets we serve.”

Referencing yet another song from decades ago, in the post of April 1, 2014, to, NonStop and Clouds! Is it a case of over, under, sideways, down? I made a mention of questions asked of me at the recent NonStop user gathering in Florida – the March, 2014, SunTUG event. I was asked, “Where do you see NonStop playing a role in clouds – inside the cloud, as a gateway straddling the cloud and traditional IT (data centers) putting the cloud(s) behind a NonStop presence, or as a hub, directing traffic to cloud resources as appropriate and according to cloud SLAs? And where would you see Prognosis providing value?”

You will need to read the whole post for the full story, but in short, I reiterated how I suspected that the introduction of cloud computing would be gradual in most cases, and where NonStop was concerned it would likely start with private clouds with NonStop providing a number of gateway services; in effect, treating the cloud as just another resource. However, it was much deeper into the post where I expressed my true feelings on this topic.

As for IR’s take on clouds, as expressed in that post, it was best left to General Manager Products and Alliances at IR, John Dunne, when he said, “Prognosis is well positioned to provide oversight of all that transpires as transactions are executed, no matter where that may be. Our view is that clouds are just another computing resource and as such, Prognosis has been engineered to accommodate any event stream being logged no matter the source – including clouds.”

Of course, no post on clouds and what’s trending can overlook the work being done at Infrasoft, even as they completed the implementation of maRunga, based on prototypes developed by NonStop solutions architects. Central to the goal Infrasoft set for maRunga has been its universal support of Windows, Linux as well as NonStop as platforms likely to be populating clouds – particularly those of the data center. “Would we like to discuss our intentions further with folks like Yash and John,” noted Infrasoft Managing Director, Peter Shell. “You bet, and why wouldn’t we? I’m certain there are users out there already thinking along these lines.” And Shell is not likely to be alone with thoughts like this.  

The industry is littered with the shells of companies that reached too far and delivered solutions companies didn’t need, I wrote, just as there are as many forgotten companies that failed simply because they couldn’t keep up. The timing of products in support of clouds however will be critical to the rate of acceptance cloud computing achieves, no more so than when NonStop is involved; ease of integration (with clouds) will be particularly important for NonStop users. As I wrote this, I could have added too that in time, there will be no limit to the types of HW and OS combinations inside the cloud and in effect, NonStop had every right, indeed every opportunity, to populate any cloud configuration imaginable.

Those early to the cloud market are dictating the terms, but not for long. Just as we saw every vendor changing the badges on the systems to reflect their usage as servers, so too will we see cloud badges appearing on everything imaginable – just as today we see the lower case i- in popular use. No, CIOs need to be aware that cloud computing is not an exclusive club closed to all who do not possess the secret handshake. It’s open to every manufacturer determined to develop the right messages and work on an appropriate spin – but it’s out there and it’s early days.

It will take a lot more posts before the general IT population begins to get the message just as it will take moves by middleware and solutions vendors to promote their offerings as cloud centric. It will take even more evangelism by all within the NonStop community, and I suspect it will be the actions taken by just a few visionaries among the user community before HP NonStop is truly on board. It may even find a spark within just one vertical – and for my money, I’m not ruling out manufacturing and heavy industry as likely candidates – but again, when it comes to my vision of clouds, everyone can get on my cloud!

Monday, March 24, 2014

300 posts? It’s been all rather simple to do!

Celebrating an anniversary is not something I am all that good at – the number affixed to our track car reminds me of my wedding anniversary and is a constant reminder not to forget that important date – however, 300 is not an insignificant number and worth reflecting on … 

It would be so tempting just to let this hold over for a couple of days. Say till April 1st, maybe? But for those tracking posts to this blog, this post represents the 300th posting in almost seven years. Yes, I have been helped along the way with a couple of posts from Margo, but all the same, to those who think there’s not much that’s new about NonStop – will hit the print key and see how much paper you will need!

The picture above was taken from the movie of the same name but don’t read too much into this choice of celebratory graphic. Apart from a nonsense storyline, I liked the technology used in its creation and that’s all I have to say at this point. However, celebrating 300 is still a feat that I wouldn’t have reached if it hadn’t been for a lot of encouragement along the way, and for that, I am most appreciative. To the NonStop community, my grateful thanks as posting to this blog I never take lightly.

Anniversaries are still important to me. Not that I am always punctual with cards and well wishes – the number plastered to the side of our race car was chosen so that each time I pass it in the garage, I would be reminded of one important date. Yes, our wedding anniversary.

After 45 years NonStop certainly has much to be thankful for. In many ways, it still comes as a surprise every time I count back the years to figure out just how long NonStop has been around, but its longevity certainly flies in the face of conventional wisdom.

What’s hip? What’s modern? What’s cool?

I’m often asked how best to explain the success of NonStop – and yes, it definitely is being considered successful when so many companies continue to rely on NonStop. And keep on upgrading to newer models each and every time a new model is released – it shouldn’t shock anyone that there never was a model of NonStop introduced that failed to attract customers. Not that I can recall, despite some curious model assignments back in the early to mid-1990s as the first RISC-based systems rolled out.

So as to hip? Well being able to write and run Java applications on NonStop is pretty hip according to programmers I talk to!

As for modern – well it runs on Intel. Enough said – and yes, plans to support the Intel x86 architecture only adds to this story.

When it comes to being cool then this is not a label appended to items of mass appeal, but rather to a select few items that those in the know fully appreciate. And NonStop wears that label with considerable pride that few in the community discount, even after all this time.

Owning select niches the way NonStop does, for me is the very essence of cool. And with that I get few arguments – even my good friends working with IBM mainframes understand NonStop was pretty cool the way it handles networks and requires only minimal oversight, then that’s cool. As a retailer once told me, they only ever concern themselves with the NonStop system when the (very old) system console starts chattering away and paper logs start spooling onto the floor, at which time someone will wonder over and take a look!

If we are keeping everyone honest here – how many system managers have become aware that a processor was down only as routine maintenance was being performed by NonStop hardware engineers? No interruption of service – the system just kept on processing transactions. Cool! The architecture of NonStop was innovative in the 1970s and it’s just as innovative today.

However, today, it’s not that simple and what NonStop achieves in a world as diverse as we see it becoming, connecting all the wires, monitoring all the session activity across a plethora of servers, and keeping an eye open over database performance only goes to show how advanced NonStop systems have become. Complexity abounds and yet, NonStop keeps on running. 24 x 7 x 365!

This past week I attended a regional user group – the first in quite some time, if I don’t count last year’s highly successful NonStop Advanced Technical Boot Camp (TBC). The occasion this time was SunTUG’s event and it always attracts a good size crowd and it didn’t fail to deliver again this year – there was a strong customer presence, along with an energetic group of vendors.

In the exchanges I had with the NonStop community, and in the sidebar conversations over coffee, the mood was definitely as upbeat as ever – definitely a change from years past. And at the heart of these conversations was the innovation inherent within today’s hip, modern and cool NonStop systems that made complexity, simple.

When I wrote the 200th post, it was just after HP Discover 2011. In that post of June 28, 2011, Responsible CIOs show restraint! I made the observation that “NonStop will never be general purpose … It’s a specialty system and there’s a place for specialty systems within company data centers for many years to come.” Going back to even further, when I wrote the 100th post on November 13, 2008, Innovation – simply put! I noted that as it was my 100th posting, “I think it’s fitting that in this post I continue to link NonStop and Innovation.”

Looking back at these statements, I have been consistent with the messages presented to the NonStop community. NonStop is based on commodity hardware. It’s open, supporting industry-standard interfaces and services. Porting has become a lot easier and there’s numerous examples today of successful ports of sizable solutions.

It glosses over much, and it is an oversimplification, I know, but when I am asked about what to port to NonStop my simple answer is, everything! If you have an application in C/ C++ or Java, then it takes very little to have it up and running on NonStop – particularly if you seek out the folks at the ATC.

NonStop occupies a powerful niche! No, it’s not general purpose nor will it ever be. NonStop embraces innovation! This message hasn’t changed in the years I’ve posted to this blog. No, it’s not old fashioned and it’s most definitely not legacy.

And having said that there’s absolutely no downside, or reason as to “why not?” when you consider all that’s being talked about, as hybrids and clouds for NonStop not to be included in the conversation. NonStop systems today are hybrids in a box already, and looking at the history of NonStop, as I have been doing with colleagues from IBM, its very presence in the data center for all these years has been in hybrid configurations – that’s what NonStop does best.

Again, it simplifies otherwise complex configurations. Embellishing the messages of specialty, innovative, commodity and open with the addition of simplification is something we all need to pursue in our everyday conversations within IT. After 300 posts to this NonStop community blog, this has become central to what I write and present.

Anniversaries and milestones are important. For the NonStop community it is indeed an opportune time to check the pulse of NonStop. It’s alive, it’s thriving and it’s still the best at what it does – supporting mission-critical real time applications, 24 x 7 x 365. Here’s to 300 more posts and another 45 years of NonStop!  

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The road takes a turn … NonStop attracts another partner to North America!

Leaving the beaten path to visit a small village north of San Francisco gave me an opportunity to have coffee with the chief executive of yet another payments vendor setting up shop in here in the States and it proved to be time well spent …

One of the first things visitors to northern California want to do is to visit the wine country surrounding Napa and Sonoma. For the more adventurous, the trip down the Russian River to the coast is also a journey not to be missed. During the years I lived in Cupertino, whenever there was a free weekend I would head north on Highway One and take in the sights of a coastline. Driving though is not for the faint of heart as the road is full of blind crests and numerous hidden turns. Approaching each corner can be cause for doubt; knowing what’s ahead, or even what’s around the corner, was a challenge.

Having made this journey numerous times over three decades I thought I knew the place fairly well but when I was invited to meet a vendor in Mill Valley, I was caught completely by surprise. Just over ten miles north of San Francisco’s famous Golden Gate Bridge, this picturesque township lies deep within a forest of redwoods – I should have visited this town years ago! Missed opportunities seem to be a reoccurring theme of late. Well, to be more accurate, the need to compromise and to find a middle ground is influencing a lot of what I have been doing.

Would I like to be back in the car, on a race circuit somewhere? For sure! Would I like to be cruising on my motorcycle? That too! But the weather has been woeful and just as highway One takes delight into throwing you off line, so too have my commitments to my clients as I juggle time away from the office attending user events, while I need to spend more time writing. Sitting in a coffee house that was once a railway station, soaking up the atmosphere, I couldn’t help wondering how on earth I had missed stopping by this place.

I was in Mill Valley as I had promised to meet with Brian Miller, newly appointed VP & GM Americas, Lusis Payments Inc. Having just started operations in North America it was an opportunity not to miss as I had been aware of Lusis presence in the payments marketplace for some time. However, the last time I had met with an executive of Lusis it had been in Paris and I couldn’t imagine being further away from Paris than in Mill Valley.

Readers may recall the post of March 25, 2010, More new engines for NonStop! where I first wrote of Lusis. In fact, that particular post proved extremely popular, ranking seventh all time. With nearly 300 posts to the blog, Real Time View, whether it was the content or simply the picture I chose, it speaks volumes about the interest in payments solutions that it rates as well as it does after all these years.

At a presentation late last year by HP VP & GM Integrity Servers, Randy Meyer, given to the NonStop user community in Canada (CTUG), he highlighted that whereas in former times, there were three solutions in the payments market utilizing NonStop, today there are twelve. Included in the twelve was Lusis and while I maintain strong relationships with other vendors on the list, I am always quick to congratulate those vendors who step up to support NonStop systems.

Sitting across the table from Miller, I asked him about why a European company would want to come to America – after all, not everything developed on the continent has found a happy home in the U.S. “We’ve had a tremendous response with the NonStop community here in the Americas,” said Miller. “The fact that we have two customers running on HP NonStop in production and another two in project mode solidifies that we do have an application that works very well and meets the needs of customers anywhere in the world.”

What interested me was how a comprehensive product like Lusis’s TANGO, first developed for Unix, was able to work as well as it did on NonStop. I have seen other migrations and while some have moved to NonStop cleanly, others were less successful. When it comes to running on NonStop systems, “the core processes are written in C++ with Java and XML used for configuration and when it comes to NonStop, we sit on top of OSS with SQL/MX as the database and with iTPWS present as well,” Miller added.

I have been working with the vendor community for more years than I care to recount and writing blog posts about their achievements is something I have been doing ever since I started this NonStop community blog, back in 2007. However, it’s still gets me excited and when I get the opportunity for a one-on-one session with a senior executive, I don’t really care how far I have to drive.

“The interest coming from the big banks is from those who have made large investments in the HP Nonstop platform and want to keep those platforms in play,” was how Ki Roth, Head of Business Development, Americas, explained their early success in an email exchange I had with him following my meeting with Miller. TANGO, according to Roth, is proving of interest to those banks that are looking to migrate “away from the legacy applications to something more modern and flexible.”

I can’t always see around corners and I can’t predict with any certainty what may happen down the road. In the digital world the data is coming at us thick and fast, so much so that we often overlook that it’s only with the deployment of a solution, that it all comes together. Technology advancements mean very little if the solutions vendors can’t leverage whatever it is that is capturing the headlines – whether it’s Clouds or Big Data, Hybrid Computing or Mobility, Web services or SaaS, I only get really excited when I see a vendor capitalizing on a technology in a tangible way.

When I asked Roth whether the success of Lusis could be credited to technology, functionality, expertise, price, etc. he responded with, “it’s a result of a combination of the things you listed.” Roth then added, “The SOA Architecture is really well received by both the technologist and the business side of the company who see the benefit of having a flexible application that can help them quickly respond to changes in the market place and increase the touch points with customers which in turn drives sales and customer satisfaction.”

Not missing any opportunity to sell me on the value proposition of TANGO, Miller then added as we drank coffee in the café that morning in Mill Valley, “We just recently finished up a benchmark at the HP ATC center in Palo Alto for a prospect and it exceeded their expectations. We look forward to reporting on that in the very near future. However, the results gathered to date showed us that TANGO is as scalable as NonStop customers expect and using the configuration on hand, TANGO achieved a transaction rate of 2500 tps for a 48 hour period – something we don’t expect many NonStop customers will require but it was proof positive that the architecture of TANGO knows no real limits. We’ve just started spreading the word about TANGO here in North America but we look forward to earning the right to do business with NonStop users in the months and years to come.”

As the picture at the top of this post depicts, we are all travelling down a digital road that constantly twists and turns. We can’t say for sure what we will face in the near term and yet, experienced partners can help us straighten out much of the road we travel. From South Africa to Scandinavia to North America, TANGO has already found a home among some of the biggest NonStop users in the community and there could be even more to follow in the foreseeable future.

There’s competition for sure and I am working with several such solutions vendors. However, I can only think the NonStop community sees the benefits from such competition – truly, a variety of choice unlike anything they have seen in decades. And if these solutions vendors are betting a sizeable amount of their future on NonStop, it augurs well for the future of NonStop in each and every data center. In jumping to that conclusion, approaching further corners doesn’t bother me one bit!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

It’s simply good cricket – NonStop’s Australian connection!

The game of cricket revolves around confidence even as it calls for bold actions by those participating. But it’s not just sportsman that Australia produces as it is the home of many vendors supporting the NonStop community – and all find traction with the user community!

Wickets continue to fall and run chases simply petered out – of course we are talking cricket and coming off the complete obliteration of the English side, Australia has drawn first-blood against the highest ranked cricketing nation, South Africa. Even so, as of right now, Australia is holding its collective breath, hoping its good fortune continues and right now, it’s delicately poised.

This is not the first time I have turned to cricket as a way to ease into a topic, but the turn-around in Australia’s cricketing fortunes has surprised everyone who follows the game that today accounts for about a third of the planet’s population. When compared to the populations of Great Britain, India and Pakistan, as well as South Africa, it still comes as a surprise that such a small country can generate such competitive teams.

It’s not just in sports where Australia fights “well above its weight”, but in technology as well. For a country with similar population to Florida or New York, the influence of Australian vendors on the NonStop community continues unabated. NET/MASTER and its NonStop derivative, NS NET/MASTER; Insession’s ICE, WebGate / SafeTGate; Integrated Research’s Prognosis; and not forgetting ISS / Gresham, with TOP (now a part of comForte) and there’s probably one or two products I have missed. If it needs connecting, accessing, securing or monitoring at one time or another, there’s an Australian product being marketed worldwide that meets the needs.

As a city, Sydney on the other hand is really big – larger now than the US state of Kentucky, and closing in on Louisiana. While the definitions of cities among countries is not truly comparable, it may surprise many that according to 2012 US data Sydney, with a population of 4.58 million (2010 Aust. data), is bigger than Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston, and places second behind New York City. Australia is a big country, sparsely populated but with extremely large clusters of people. Perhaps that accounts for the good cricketers. And good developers.

As a dual citizen, enjoying the best of all that the US and Australia can offer, I have to admit that I live a charmed life being able to transition between countries and feel at ease with either country’s culture and preferences. I can happily watch a baseball game in California’s sunshine even as I can show up for a good game of rugby in Sydney. I can go for a sail on the Great Barrier Reef just as I can enjoy racing a car on the high deserts of Colorado. Americans and Australians may be on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean but little else separates them culturally, commercially or even competitively – was it just me that observed how last year’s winning America’s Cup yacht was skippered by an Aussie?

I last wrote about cricket in the post of January 7, 2014, She’ll be right, mate! where I happened to mention just how fiercely Australia was beating up Old Blighty, that is to say, England. In that post I complained bitterly that there isn’t a lot more being done in support of NonStop citing users and vendors alike. Following a recent conversation with Infrasoft Managing Director the opportunity to discuss the commitment, and investment, in NonStop wasn’t something I could easily overlook. In business for only a few years, Infrasoft attracted seed money, pulled together a small development team, brought their first product, uLinga, to market and was able to convince HP that licensing important Cloud intellectual property to a small Australian development company was a good thing to do – hence, maRunga.

Equally important was the emergence of a global partnership with comForte who have now ensured uLinga has a firm foothold in the NonStop market. Following the introduction of uLinga barely two years ago, uLinga has successfully replaced HP’s SNAX and ACI’s ICE products even as it brought new technology to NonStop, (in the form of CICS IPIC support), to better modernize transactional interaction between NonStop mission-critical applications and IBM CICS applications. In so doing, requiring neither MQ nor FTP style connectivity and improving availability as well as performance.

Supporting applications such as ACI’s Base24 and providing an alternative API implementation to SNAX HLS, the uLinga implementation focused on retaining compatibility at the API level to ensure migrations could be undertaken with minimal to no impact on important operational applications. But now, Infrasoft’s Shell informs me, in response to input from prospects, MQ APIs are available that remove the need to run IBM’s WebSphereMQ (MQ) on NonStop. Through the years I have been involved in MQ on NonStop – working first with Candle and then later with IBM including a brief time, while at ACI, where former Insession developers were providing support for MQ on NonStop. Consequently, this news from Shell grabbed my immediate and undivided attention.

When I asked Shell if uLinga now eliminated the need for MQ on NonStop his response was immediate, “It is important to recognize that MQ may still be used on the mainframe as it could be used for many other purposes.” Shell explained. “The major benefit of what we are providing is for applications on the NonStop (or other server platforms including Linux and Windows) that currently use MQ to communicate with a mainframe application, can do so now with uLinga and with no need for any application changes. They will save a lot of money by not requiring MQ to be installed on the NonStop nor have to worry about MQ versions.”

Even as I worked through the potential simplification that uLinga would provide, Shell went a little deeper, in terms of making sure I understood the ramifications. “If the application on the NonStop/Win32/*ix platform uses the MQ Interface (MQI) to communicate with an application on the IBM mainframe ‘and’ the mainframe application is CICS based ‘and’ the CICS-WebsphereMQ bridge is used, then what we provide with uLinga can replace the usage of WebsphereMQ and the CICS-WebsphereMQ bridge on the mainframe for that application's purpose. The CICS-based application would not need to be modified and once again, it is the IPIC protocol that is used between the NonStop/Win32/*ix platform and CICS.”

In the past, MQ has proved expensive, difficult to keep current and often impossible to get support in a timely manner. I know – I have been on the other end of calls from NonStop customers. However, if you are using MQ as a pipe into IBM applications and not dependent on its store-and-forward properties, uLinga will definitely prove to be a godsend. The number of times I have seen implementation schematics full of MQ references is too numerous to recount here in this post, but suffice to say, IBM did a wonderful marketing job in convincing data centers to overlay physical, heterogeneous fabrics with MQ to level the inter-process communications.

“The feature will be available in all uLinga products in Q2 2014 and it will be available on all the platforms supported by uLinga - HP NonStop, MS Windows and Linux,” Shell added. “Any application that is transaction oriented can benefit from this additional new feature of uLinga.” Current users of uLinga – in support of either DLSw or EE as well as uLinga for CICS will be able to upgrade for free as part of Infrasoft’s goal of ensuring uLinga becomes the best option for all NonStop (and yes, Windows and Linux) to IBM mainframe communications.

Not lost in these exchange with Shell was the message about NonStop longevity, and growth. Even as we see the volume of transactions passing through NonStop continue to rise, there remains some questions about the overall health of the NonStop marketplace and the attraction it still holds for developers worldwide. As I posed this question to middleware and solutions vendors, there’s an acknowledgment that a couple of years back, the market for NonStop appeared to be heading down but of late, there’s been a visible easing in this downward trend and stability has returned.

On a more positive note, the arrival of mobile devices (and the network demands they make) has seen the emergence of a new marketplace and with that, an upward tick of the growth curve that is a surprise to many. uLinga, supporting critical connectivity options and following a solid introduction into all GEOs, looks assured to ride this upward tick as it distances itself from all competitive offerings. And there’s no question at all about Shell not agreeing with this observation!

There have been occasions in the past where Peter Shell and I have been called upon to explain the game of cricket to visiting Americans. Suffice to say, should you come across the two of us at an event, don’t even raise the topic, unless you are prepared to listen to a competitive explanation of the game for an hour or so! However, when it comes to networking and communications in today’s heterogeneous world, Infrasoft has few peers and as plans for future NonStop systems take form, uLinga holds many of the cards when it comes to realizing the potential value such systems will provide.

Friday, February 21, 2014

So much to read – so many comments! Where to turn?

Have you been following comments posted to this blog? To discussions started on LinkedIn groups? One recent exchange caught my eye so I pulled it into this post and added my own observations …

My day may end with reading a menu, as illustrated above, but when my day starts it is always with a review of papers and reports from well-known daily publications, including a selection from Europe and of course Australia. The scope varies significantly but includes business publications, sports commentaries, some scientific articles as well as headlines from the popular press. Over coffee, I manage to skim as many as a dozen sources and there is no real objective in mind when I begin – a story or commentary just has to have enough “special ingredients” to catch my attention.

Following the early morning reading, I turn to skimming items on LinkedIn. While I check in with Facebook, I’m nowhere near as religious about my Facebook presence as I am about LinkedIn. Staying current with the 40 plus groups I support on LinkedIn – many associated with NonStop regional groups – my interests vary considerably, just as it does when skimming conventional publications. Colleagues have often expressed to me that they don’t have the time to check out the news, conventional or otherwise, and that’s a shame – so much is being written about NonStop these days that it presents opportunities to reach audiences that otherwise may not be aware of the merits of NonStop.

It’s not until early afternoon before I finally sit down at the keyboard and write my posts and features. The influence from what I have read in the morning is inescapable and much of what I write draws from incidents and opinions I have just come across. Of the LinkedIn groups that I follow, Mission Critical Systems Forum (facilitated by Oracle) – yes, “that” Oracle – is one I rarely miss. Indeed, many of the NonStop community seem to follow as well and for good reasons; who wouldn’t want to follow a group rallying under the banner of mission-critical systems! Along with folks from the IBM camp, it’s encouraging to see comments posted by these NonStop participants, and if this group is new to you by all means think about joining and help champion the message of NonStop!

There are 21,250 members and that of itself is remarkable. However, the discussion recently started by a simple question, In one sentence, what do you think is the most important element when it comes to designing a new data centre? and it generated numerous responses in record time. Among the simple, even one-word responses, were “Energy consumption”, “Redundancy”, “Availability”, “Cost and offering “, “Green data center design”, “Why not just use the cloud?" and even “Choose the right person(s) to do it!” 

Eventually though, lists began to appear and these attracted even more discussion.

The first list prioritized the important elements as follows:

This list was followed soon after by another:
Data center facility must be redundancy and use tools monitoring and minimum in tier 2 with strong people knowledge for the DC facility operation.
System Security
Discipline process in operation should be automation for EOD process, compliance with policy, regulatory and DC problem management
Discipline execution for Technology refresh to be green DC
Have a good leader for DC Operation management Head.

Then came another list:
Environmental Acceptance (GREEN)
Scalability (Client)
Utility Diversity

It doesn’t take a whole lot of time or reflection to see that there are a number of common elements and what’s really interesting is just how relevant NonStop remains. Having checklists like this – and yes, one came from an IBM member – helps all of us, as we are challenged almost daily as to why we continue to support (and rely on) NonStop. Furthermore, it gives us confidence whenever we face our data center manager or CIO. We remain well informed, and the consensus (among this very large group) suggests that the very same reasons why we justified NonStop usage remains at the forefront of most involved in data center design, even today!

Of course, too, with a topic such as this, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to respond. Not with one sentence, mind you, as this isn’t my style, but with a couple of supporting arguments thrown in for good measure. Even so, I pulled together my own list for this group, observing right from the outset that there’s no one item here that surpasses all else, but there’s a clear starting point, availability.

Availability? Drawing on my own commentary already made to this blog, I noted how it was a pro-football coach who, turning to an injured player on the bench, remarked, “Your best ability is your availability!” If you are unavailable, you are out of the game. Literally. So yes, this is the starting point and here, even though my first two decades were spent working with IBM (Mainframes, 8100s, Series/1s etc.), it is the Tandem / NonStop that continues to excel today … with still, despite the complexity and costs (and skill sets needed), mainframes with parallel sysplex running second, a few steps behind.

So far so good – with a little extra added in deference to my friends still relying on IBM systems, of course. Once past the availability element, I elected to go down a slightly different, if indeed unusual, path. What about Value-ability, I asked? I saw references to value (in describing important elements, previously) and that has to be close to the top as well … we are not operating any longer in the “do more with less” model, but are being challenged to provide value. Elaborating on this I returned to availability, noting that like scalability (both up and out) it has to come as part of the package. You can’t bolt availability, and indeed scalability, onto the side as an afterthought – and yes, I like the comment about making sure you pick the right person from the outset. And yes, I said, notice the sleight of hand – solve availability and you address scalability when done right!

There was an immediate “Like” flag generated (and yes, from an IBM member), but this wasn’t the end as going down the path I was taking, I then became even more creative suggesting how too there’s Insight-ability? Particularly when it comes to security! When it comes to security, I called out, we are in an arms race and no, there’s no quick fix here or off-the-shelf solution. At best, we need to know (about attacks) as they happen and have the ability to neutralize quickly; for that, I need (operational and business) insight. I need to know the “person of interest” I should follow … and neutralize.

In my correspondence with my clients and from the exchanges I have had with users over the course of 2013, Insight-ability is a growing demand. Call it business insight – it’s important, as no system is an island and no system is immune to what is going on elsewhere in the data center. With the discussions I have had with those providing monitoring as well as security solutions, at best, we can erect strong walls to better defend ourselves.

While I didn’t include Security in my list of important elements – going as far as to ask in the post,
Yet three more wishes! if it is time to revisit these (NonStop attributes) and add securability? - when it comes to designing a data center, I firmly believe that with NonStop we have a foundation to build some impressive walls. Leveraging NonStop, we can utilize some of the best building blocks available today when it comes to fortifying the data center.

What about Clouds? And what about Green? Here my question was directed not so much towards providing an indisputable response as much as it was an attempt to draw our further commentary. Cloud; not so fast – it’s a technology we can turn to augment other resources, but for enterprises it’s no panacea. I have just watched as a client moved off MS Azure onto HP Cloud on their way to building out their own data center, this time using the new HP project Moonshot cartridges (yes, those that run cold).

Again, if your business revolves around a high ratio of “look to book” transactions then Cloud may be of value. I am working with another vendor developing Cloud Bursting solutions out of (Mainframes and) NonStop into Linux, Windows and the Cloud, just for this purpose. As an industry, we have gone from paper tape to cards to mag tape to disks, and cloud is just one more iteration of this process with the added benefit this time - it’s also got processing options. Again, as with the other comments, no push back just the “like” from IBM (and indeed, the reference to Cloud Bursting solutions out of Mainframes remains an idea more than a reality at this point but was included to reinforce some degree of objectivity)!

Finally – green. This cuts two ways. It’s a fact that we need to find a location (and a source) for cheap power but it also puts the onus back on the vendors we work with – we need more solutions like HP project Moonshot. I then admitted that I was pleased to read of how IBM and Dell were looking to take up the challenge to produce something similar (even if they were caught completely by surprise and will struggle to respond any time soon). Furthermore, the recent decision by IBM to sell off its low end, x86 server, business doesn’t bode well for anything low-end appearing from IBM in the near term. However, data centers that simply don’t need power (well at least, not on today’s scale) – that’s yet another step along the path I see us all taking, I wrote in closing.

When there’s so much to read and so many places to turn to for commentaries, it can appear overwhelming. However, as I come across interesting discussions I will always look to incorporate in posts to this blog. Where I see value in joining a particular group I will encourage the NonStop community to consider joining – we need to voice our opinions if we want NonStop to remain part of the conversation. There’s absolutely no reason at all for us to be quiet – and I am sure few of you will remain on the sidelines for long. Good reading! 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Yet three more wishes!

At any major event, there is no more anticipated presentation than the vendor’s roadmap presentations … but wait, there’s always more! Looking ahead and framing as my wishes is just one approach that I take to speculate, which I can do without suffering the consequences vendors would face should they speculate!

It’s been six years since I first blogged about my wishes for NonStop – in the posts of February 12, 2008, and February 13, 2011. Now that it is February 14, 2014, it seems only appropriate for me to look at how far the NonStop platform has come, in terms of modernization as well as commoditization, and to express opinions on a likely future of the NonStop servers.

Whether it’s coincidence or not, the previous posts have featured photographs of cars that no longer can be found in the garage. Does it truly reflect my ability to predict the future or not, they didn’t make the cut! The cars pictured above tell a story of their own and I am keeping my fingers crossed that they will remain in the garage a little longer. They are both Chrysler SRT vehicles – the V10 being the Viper SRT while the V8 is the Jeep SRT. That these cars even survived at Chrysler, enjoying better days, is close to a miracle, and is a good lead-in to this post on NonStop.

In an article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) blog, posted on December 24, 2013, Big Data and the Role of Intuition writer, Tom Davenport, responds to the question of “Whether intuition has a role in the analytics and data-driven organization.” Davenport begins his response with “The difference with analytics, of course, is that you don’t stop with the intuition — you test the hypothesis to learn whether your intuition is correct.” Furthermore, he then notes how often “The choice of a target domain is typically based on the gut feelings of executives.” Setting the stage for his final comments, Davenport then remarks, “In short, intuition’s role may be more limited in a highly analytical company, but it’s hardly extinct.”

To read of intuition, hypothesis, gut feelings, and then know that this method of figuring out what is actually taking place (in a market) is still valid (and not extinct), puts my mind at ease. Speculating about what is to come for NonStop servers therefore can be legitimately pursued based on my own intuition. As well as my gut feelings! With what has transpired these past three years, I believe anyone prepared to spend time reading everything that HP publishes and then asks pertinent questions of well-placed executives, should come to the same conclusions that I will make in this post.

In the post of February 12, 2008, "My Wish" for NS Blades my three wishes came down to firstly, wanting HP to deliver a shared infrastructure blades chassis. I then pushed a little further and with my second wish, wanted HP to provide a hypervisor whereby NonStop could become a guest operating system (OS). This essentially was my first take on the proposition that at some point, virtualization would become a factor in future NonStop configurations. With my third, and most ambitious wish, I wanted HP to provide an API whereby programmatically NonStop could be loaded on standard blades on demand. What we refer to today as provisioning was a capability I thought businesses everywhere would welcome and look to vendors to provide the monitoring tools whereby the contents of incoming transactions would determine just how many NonStop servers would be present within any given shared infrastructure blades chassis.

In the post of February 13, 2011, Three years on, and three more wishes! my next three wishes built on the earlier wishes (and yes, the shared infrastructure blades chassis came about), but added a couple of twists, or wrinkles, depending upon your perspective. This time, my first wish centered on NonStop becoming a purely software offering on the understanding that HP would introduce standard blade packages – going so far as to suggest that mezzanine, or daughter, cards would no longer be required. With my second wish, I proposed that future HP server offerings targeting the data center would all include NonStop servers as part of the package. Just as today we have SSDs with enough capacity to house important, frequently used data and files, so too would there be (shall we say) SSNS with enough capacity to ensure critical components would always be available. Finally, with my third wish, I drew a deep breath and expressed my desire for HP to pursue greater cooperation with solutions and middleware vendors as the built for the future – in other words, HP shouldn’t contemplate going it alone.

Looking back, much of what I wished for has come to fruition. There is now a shared blade infrastructure – the C7000 chassis providing the underpinnings for this. Throw in the soon-to-come InfiniBand support along with the plans to support Intel x86 architecture and much of what else I wished for is in sight. Equally as importantly, HP is working with partners – comForte, ETI, etc. come to mind – and that’s an encouraging sign. But now what? Virtualization seems to be as farfetched an idea as it was when I first began writing about it in 2008, even as NonStop packaged with everything seems to be getting closer with HP’s strong push into hybrid computing. Will we ever see NonStop inside a homogeneous array of servers stretching far into the distance, where physically it will be unrecognizable?

Expressing as I am yet three more wishes, here is what I expect to see rolling out over the next three years. First, how about repackaging TS/MP (Pathway) as VM/MP? I would really like to see some movement on this front, as today we have all accepted a form of process virtualization as we deal with Java’s Virtual Machine and .NET’s Common Language Runtime – what TS/MP provides today is independence from any awareness of where a Pathway ServerClass instance runs, and with the latest releases, this can include running on other NonStop servers. It is all there today available to all parties running NonStop, so what really is the wish? I really want to see HP become more proactive about the virtualization characteristics that already are available with NonStop and leverage as a starting point to even more adventurous options to follow. After all, surely NonStop can span multiple VMs, as today it spans multiple real machines!

Secondly, I want HP to build on its hybrid computing plans to embrace more fully NonStop – for the moment, it’s holding it’s punches somewhat and enticing a message about NonStop’s role in hybrid computing is even more difficult than getting HP executives to concur with the idea that NonStop has a role to play in clouds! Hybrids and Clouds are joined at the hip and whether outside the cloud, as a source of transactions, partway in the cloud as a gateway (directing transactions to the appropriate cloud based upon potential SLA commitments), or inside as a guardian overseeing security and fending off unwanted intrusions, NonStop has a big role to be played going forward.

Finally, my third wish? As I watch the UNIX business tank, the OpenVMS roadmaps come to an end and as Linux and Windows garnish more headlines (my observations, of course), then my final wish is for greater pride in NonStop emanating from all HP executives. Having plans now in place for NonStop to support the x86 architecture (on universal blades) is a huge step in the right direction but as young Oliver said, “please Sir, I want some more?” The more I get involved with Project Moonshot, for instance, the more I am becoming convinced that the potential to have a couple of Moonshot cartridges supporting NonStop with engagement in what’s being asked of the other Moonshot cartridges hold promise for much wider acceptance of NonStop.

These wishes may not come as a complete surprise to some readers, although the sequence may be different. In the post of July 19, 2013, Are our wishes still important? I talked about wishes in general, but now I am more confident that I am on the right track. While it remains very important for HP NonStop to present it’s roadmap for NonStop and to keep the NonStop community informed, roadmaps today aren’t what they used to be and don’t always convey the full story. Likewise, presenting a vision for NonStop is rarely done as public companies like HP are bound by regulations about making statements that are not based on something tangible. Discussing wishes, no matter who makes those wishes, is a healthy thing to do and I am hopeful what I cover here today leads to further discussions and possibly, even products. Yes, wishes remain very important!

For decades, we have lived with the Tandem fundamentals – availability, scalability and data integrity. With all that is happening in the world today, is it time to revisit these and add securability? I only throw this in as part of my final observations for surely, if this truly is an attribute helping to define the future for NonStop, then mixing NonStop into hybrid blades, into hybrid clouds and potentially into new technologies like Moonshot, assures a future for NonStop well beyond the scope of what may be on our minds these days. To paraphrase a popular television show “Living in Hawaii is not expensive – you just have to want it!”

Chrysler treats SRT as its halo brand and its products, representative of where the imagination of Chrysler engineers can take the company. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to readers that I am attracted to vehicles like this. Hopefully, as you consider my impressions about the future of NonStop your gut-feelings will kick in, as will your intuition, and experience similar insights. Pride in NonStop should be easy to accomplish. Participating in Clouds and Hybrids, a no-brainer! Word-smithing a credible story around NonStop in a virtual world? Yes, equally, a piece of cake! HP just has to want it!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Steering a safe course – a journey through the snow!

Enjoying a drive, safely, is all part of the travel experience. When it comes to having a positive financial experience, the outlook is a whole lot bleaker. So, what can we do and more specifically, what value can NonStop provide?

Greetings from sunny San Francisco, even as the rest of the country suffers under the realities of a very harsh winter. Electing to spend a week in the Bay area certainly proved to have its upsides but little did I know just how cold it would get. However, the drive to the Bay held the promise for some tough driving, so of course we elected to take the long way to, and now from, the sunny delights of San Francisco.

Safety is of paramount importance to Margo and me as we pursue our business travels. A long time ago we gave up on flying, as many readers will recall, and it wasn’t just that flying had lost much of its glamour, but rather, not having options turned out to be an option we neither enjoyed or even came close to tolerating. A safe journey is not only about what we encounter on the road but often extends to the vehicle chosen as well as the weather we would likely encounter on the route.

Needless to say, as snow descended on the Rockies last week we headed south and came to the Bay via Santa Fe, Flagstaff and Los Angeles. The return trip however, saw us dropping in on good friends at Incline Village, Lake Tahoe, so the choice of south, north or west became problematic as every direction predicted snow. Suddenly, enjoying a safe trip home looked less and less likely.

Personal safety seems to be on nearly all of our minds these days. And not just when it comes to travel. Each time I pull out the plastic to pay for gas at some remote filling station, the thought passes through my mind – who else is seeing my personal information? Where is the information on this card likely to end up? Just as importantly, too, is whether I really care any longer – increasingly, I am sensitive to working through just how much loss I am prepared to accept at any point in time, as surely, I am bound to encounter something fraudulent at some point.

With time on my hands travelling, I was able to catch up on my reading. While reading Time magazine I came across Fareed Zakaria’s column, The Case for Snooping. According to Zakaria, “The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff pointed out recently that since 2012, cyberattacks on America’s critical infrastructure – chemical, electrical, water and transport systems – have risen seventeenfold.”

However, Zakaria then reports of how, “Every major bank and corporation, from Bank of America to Goldman Sachs to the New York Times, faces almost continuous efforts from abroad to penetrate its networks, mine its data, disrupt its procedures and steal its secrets. The effects can range from disruption of transactions to systems damage that feels more like a military invasion.” Yes, we are at war as I have reported elsewhere and yes, we are in an arms race, according to HP CEO, Meg Whitman.

The events of the past couple of quarters effecting everyone from Target shoppers in the US, to loyalty card holders in the Middle East, is simply reinforcing the message that safety is not something we can assume others will take responsibility. I think we will all face decisions every day about just how (financially) exposed we will be prepared to be as we participate in a transaction. The CIA first talked about their systems not being connected to the network, any network! Operating in isolation, apparently, with access restricted to just a highly monitored console.

Unfortunately, when it comes to consumers like you and me, this is too draconian and a circumstance business cannot emulate. Or can it? Hard at work at our PCs, smartphones and tablets, are fraudulent intrusions simply becoming a ho-hum fact of modern life? Should we just give up and factor in a level of loss we can accommodate? As systems tap into even more networks and the applications we depend upon become even more complex, have we missed something very basic? Is there a silver bullet hiding within the implementations we have already deployed?

“Assume PCs and devices will be compromised. It’s virtually impossible to make any device 100% secure,” observed comForte CTO, Thomas Burg, in an upcoming article for The Connection. “Security teams need to assume these devices are vulnerable, and use that understanding to guide their security approaches.” In a separate exchange, Burg then wrote, “Complex systems are inherently harder to secure, but again I don’t see systems becoming less complex. Just as in other areas, there is no silver bullet. People need to realize it is on ongoing task and stop underfunding and under-prioritizing it.”

The CIA didn’t plug into the network but when it did, it was directly to a device, or so the story went in the film, The Recruit. Few who watched will forget the flash-drive concealed in the bottom of a Starbucks latte or how, following a dramatic descent into a secure site, Mission Impossible hero, Tom Cruise, gained access to a CIA computer console. All great theater but in reality, not something that resembles the user experience we all encourage so openly.

But could there be a case for disconnecting end devices from intermediate devices? Should card scanners be connected directly to PC based cash registers or other in-store servers? Is this all really necessary? What if the devices we interact with (and provide personal information) are all directly connected to NonStop? According to OmniPayments Inc. CEO, Yash Kapadia, this holds some promise. 

“While it may be true that security will be a problem for all in IT – vendors and users alike – there are steps that can be taken to make life for the bad guys a lot harder,” said Yash. I see no reason for continuing to allow access to end points, such as the POS devices themselves as well as the in-store controllers so many of them rely upon. This is just a reflection on how things were done in the past and no longer reflect the best approach when it comes to locking out unwarranted access.”

“With OmniPayments, we embraced an architecture that fully exploited the power and capabilities of the latest iteration of NonStop servers. Today we connect end points, such as POS devices – those terminals directly involved in scanning and approving cards credit and debit – directly to NonStop and make no requirements to have them connected either to the cash registers or in-store controllers,” Yash then explained. “To get to these POS devices, you have to get past the NonStop and this simply makes getting to the POS devices so much harder – the dedicated and persistent hacker has few options with this solution and to date, there’s been no successful attack via our solution.”

Could our safety be tied to NonStop; could the role of NonStop return once more to being our guardian? It’s not too much of a stretch to consider and many of the steps required for NonStop to fulfil such a role have already been completed. To anyone who checks the discussions on LinkedIn groups associated with NonStop, it would be hard to miss how often scenarios involving NonStop in a protection role come up. And for all the right reasons; this is second nature to the architecture of NonStop.

While in Palo Alto, Margo and I had the good fortune of catching up with HP VP and GM, Integrity Servers, Randy Meyer. We covered a lot of ground during the time we spent discussing NonStop. However, when the subject of security came up and of the vulnerability to hacking being visited on commodity servers, Randy observed that, “For some it will make sense to position commodity servers including Linux and Windows behind a NonStop gateway.”

Ultimately, I believe personal security will be up to us – we have to be involved. Looking at today’s complex systems getting even more complex, there’s no silver bullet but we may be able to help our cause minimizing the number of hops present in any given transaction path – the simplicity of direct connection holds a lot of appeal for me. Injecting a NonStop to remove possible access to our commodity servers will likely gain traction too in some markets, even as the security attributes of NonStop become more widely known those supporting modern, mission-critical applications.

The next time I pull out the plastic before pumping gas, I will not experience anything different to what I already do. Bad folks are out there and it’s only a matter of time before I too am compromised. In the end, unfortunately, I will have to make some decisions when it comes to just how much I am prepared to lose – and try to reduce the exposure – but stopping it altogether? For most of us, however, we clearly sympathize with King Canute as we too vainly try holding back the tide!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Cut the lines! Flood the moat! Pull up the drawbridge – we are under attack!

In the days of the cold war, we were all spectators to an arms race but with the end of the cold war, we rarely use this expression. However, events of the last couple of months have made us realize that indeed, the race is on, yet again …

This week I participated in the half-yearly sales meeting of Integrated Research, the company who brings you the much-deployed Prognosis monitoring solution. When it came time to sit down with the account teams responsible for NonStop systems and Payments platforms, the topic of fraud (and its detection and neutralization) wasn’t far from their minds – routinely through the day, we made references to the most recent attack on Target, affecting almost one in five Americans.

In the introduction to the post Cruising to EMV eventuality? to ATMmarketplace on May 17, 2013, I wrote of a trip only a few years before to St Petersburg, Russia. Back then, the topic of the day was the ATM attack that pilfered some US $40 million from unsuspecting banks, the majority of which were in New York. In that post I quoted a story that appeared in the Wall Street Journal  that told of one of the biggest ever bank heists, when a global cybercrime ring stole $45 million from two Middle Eastern banks by hacking into credit card processing firms and withdrawing money from ATMs in 27 countries.

I also wrote about the surprise I had when I read of how "investigators said they found an email exchange with an account associated with a criminal money laundering operation in St. Petersburg, Russia, describing wire transfers." Only a couple of years earlier Margo and I had paid a visit to St Petersburg when our cruise ship pulled into the port for an extended stay. We took the opportunity to take in the sites, and among the most stunning we have seen anywhere in Europe was the restored palace of Catherine the Great. The photo at the top of the post is of Margo in one of the restored gilded rooms, with myself as photographer visible in the mirror.

On shore, I couldn’t help noticing just how many cafes lined the canal and how full they were of people, oblivious to the tourists that passed by, hunched over their laptop computers. I recall being told at the time, I posted to ATMmarketplace, how it was sad to see so many unemployed PhDs simply filling in time before playing chess in the afternoon. However, it was left to others to suggest that their pastime included activities far removed from playing chess.

It would now appear that the attack on Target and other department stores had a connection with St Petersburg as well. According to, “the card-skimming malware used to steal the credit card data of up to 110 million Target customers was ‘off-the-shelf’ malware created by a 17 year-old Russian programmer from St Petersburg. In the article, Target Malware Written By 17 Year-Old Russian Teen From St Petersburg, Firm Claims the US security analyst, IntelCrawler, has claimed. IntelCrawler “names (the teenager) as 'ree[4]', a multi-talented Russian cybercriminal and author of a range of hacking tools, including BlackPOS itself. The firm even tracked down his real name, complete with photographs of the alleged culprit.”

Furthermore, while “It is not clear that this individual has any direct connection to the actual Target attack,” IntelCrawler’s president, Dan Clements, acknowledged, “He is still visible for us, but the real bad actors responsible for the past attacks on retailers such as Target and Neiman Marcus were just his customers.” So what is it with St Petersburg? If other visitors make the same observations as I did, why can’t we just cut all the phone lines into this city? With each attack I have to believe this café society will only get bolder and the sheer brazenness of their pursuits escalate further.

It’s tantamount to a declaration of war by the intellectuals of St Petersburg! Perhaps this is, indeed, what is taking place. For participants in the January 8, 2014, webinar Meg Whitman & George Kadifa: Transforming your IT Organization and Creating Business Value, HP CEO declared it an arms race, when the subject of security was raised. I cannot imagine a better description of what’s taking place than what HP’s CEO has observed; you can raise the bar but it simply creates a new objective for the bad guys, and they will eventually find a way over.

And, if it is war – what tools do we have to repel such attacks. Clearly, coming away from the IR sales meeting, monitoring represents a great starting point. As one recent IR hire with deep industry knowledge reflected, “surely someone should have noticed that along a string of ATMs there were withdrawals (all at the maximum allowed) from a rarely-used loyalty card connected with a bank almost nobody accessed!” You would have thought alarms would have sounded pretty quickly but now, in hindsight, we aren’t so sure. When you have displays showing groups of cards in buckets, according to type and issuer, then surely this had to have stood out for all and sundry to see!

Perhaps we shouldn’t be too hard on the operators. Perhaps the real answer lies elsewhere, and could lead us into discussions about one of the true value prospects from integration with Big Data. Central to much of what IR has begun deploying with its latest release of Prognosis are new capabilities providing Business Insight, and it’s not hard to see some of the properties of Business Insight being utilized to predict escalating hostilities from the bad guys. Indeed, predictive analytics is at the fore of many discussions involving financial institutions following the most recent attacks.

According to Itamar Ankorion, Attunity’s Vice President, Business Development and Corporate Strategy, these financial institutions don’t want to see a message informing them that they have lost $40million, preferring to be informed ahead of time that they are likely to lose $40milion. “Such analytics can be done in an analytic platform like HP Vertica, in Hadoop, or a combination of both,” acknowledged Ankorion. “Financial institutions should look at these new technologies as ways to enable this capability; and in doing so, look for ways to leverage the data from the NonStop to support this analytics.”

HP CEO, Meg Whitman’s, remark that when it came to security, businesses everywhere were in an arms race was made during a webinar on HAVEn. An integral part of HAVEn revolves around Enterprise Security and its presence in HP’s Big Data Platform is not an accident. Clearly, securing Big Data frameworks themselves is an obvious need, but for me turning HAVEn around and applying it to help become more proactive with respect to predicting potential attacks is perhaps an even more important outcome of the HAVEn program. Could Big Data used in defense of our switches and networks, and ultimately, our money, become the commercial equivalent of the 1980s “Star Wars” that ended the last arms race?

Recognizing the potential outcome of such a focus on Big Data and the impact it could have hasn’t escaped the attention of WebAction co-founder Sami Akbay. “Now that the attention of the world is turning to events in the US, as hackers penetrate the security systems at retailers like Target,” said Akbay, “ it’s more than likely that the work being done with Big Data (and the analytics relying on Big Data) may be re-prioritized to better detect the sophisticated security attacks we are all witnessing.”

Akbay then explained that even as “Credit card issuers like Visa and MasterCard have done a good job to date in identifying fraudulent transactions as they happen, and their cardholders are well protected against fraudulent transactions, there’s real money being lost and these card issuers would like to stem the flow. With Big Data and the inclusion of real time transactional data, as we are providing today with WebAction, we expect much better awareness of potential fraudulent transaction – not as they are taking place but in the minutes and seconds leading up to them about to take place!”

Cutting all the phone lines connecting St Petersburg to the rest of the world is not an answer. Perpetrators in other countries are every bit as active as St Petersburg, of course, as we are just finding out. South Korea, for instance, woke to news just a few days ago that a rogue “Worker at the Korea Credit Bureau, a company that offers risk management and fraud detection services,” took off with the personal information of 40% of the population. In this just-breaking story, Massive data theft hits 40% of South Koreans, CNN disclosed that, “Crucial personal data like identification numbers, addresses and credit card numbers were all stolen”. Clearly, what needs to be pursued has to be a lot better than what we have been relying on to date.

According to IR, what needs to be pursued more aggressively is greater Business Insight, including greater focus on predictive analytics – alerting business to potential trends when they first develop. Big Data certainly holds the potential to be extremely helpful in this respect and vendors specializing in Big Data are well aware of the potential upside from greater integration with daily operations.

If there truly is an arms race under way, as is being suggested, NonStop is right in the middle of it and remaining ambivalent even as the bad guys probe our defenses, is not an option. Equipping our operations personnel, standing as they do on the edge of imminent danger, with tools to stem the tide is of paramount importance for every business – the headlines are bound to continue, but there’s no reason why anyone in the NonStop community should suffer. It’s time to roll out Star Wars and turn the tide on these bad guys!  

Friday, January 17, 2014

NonStop adding further chapters to its rich history in a hybrid world!

Genetics play a big role in how we all develop and it’s not too hard to speculate that “good genes” also helps products prosper. When it comes to NonStop systems, they have participated in hybrid computing throughout their history so embracing hybrids today will not be a daunting challenge for NonStop …

Ever since they first showed up on Los Angeles freeways, hybrid cars have aroused a strange mixture of curiosity as well as optimism. Rushing headlong down the high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, or car-pool lanes as they are sometimes called, they generated considerable envy among the less fortunate still ensconced in vehicles with more conventional powertrains.

Yet for many, these cars’ boxy, often-ugly appearance was a turn-off for many likely purchasers, including the likes of yours truly. Margo grew up in Poland where there were few options apart from the Trabant, so there was little opportunity to look forward to anything other than little boxes, leaving her with little appetite today for what she sees cruising down the express lanes.

As for me, there will never be a trade-off between aesthetics and practicality – if it does not look good, I simply will not consider buying it. Anyone considering the purchase of a Porsche Panamera, for instance, has to wonder whether he or she really wants to park such a car in the garage! Fortunately, there is the potential for some stunning hybrids appearing in the marketplace – it is very hard to object to the styling cues of the new BMW i8, or indeed, the Porsche 918, let alone the Ferrari LaFerrari. However, while these exotic hybrids trigger considerable debate, they are only options for a very select few; the rest of us left to contemplate the awful-looking boxes that remain within our reach.

While attending an event at a well-known car racing circuit last year, I came across a bumper sticker that simply proclaimed, “Yes I am a hybrid – I burn gas and rubber!” Rather cheeky, I thought, but then again, events for alternate-fuel based racecars are beginning to appear at this and other tracks around the country, and in 2014 we see the launch of Formula-e, the “new global electric racing series”. While not strictly speaking a hybrid, Formula-e is certainly drawing our attention to the potential benefits from powertrains apart from gas (petrol) / diesel burning combustion engine.

For the past couple of days I have been putting together a new PowerPoint presentation for use at one of my client’s half-yearly sales and marketing update. While there is much that I could include I elected to touch on Cloud computing, but drill deeper into Hybrid computers. After all, the birthplace of NonStop was in hybrid configurations that quite often saw NonStop systems front-ending IBM mainframes in support of vast networks of ATMs, POSs and even telephones. In cooperation these mainframe – NonStop hybrids serviced transaction systems reliably and paved the way for a gradual transformation of batch and on-line applications to real-time mission critical solutions.   

While researching the presentation, I came across an interview of HP’s CEO, Meg Whitman, and a number of her Executive Vice Presidents that was published under the headline of CRN Exclusive: Whitman, HP Top Execs On Beating Dell, Security Breaches And Partner Profitability. Within the slides that made up the story, were some timely comments that then found their way into my presentation. “Cloud is, obviously, one of the key initiatives of this company,” HP CEO Meg Whitman. “It is, I think, a game-changer in how compute is delivered, how it is paid for, how it is sold. And HP has to be a leader in this area.”

Deeper into the story came the equally important observation by the new head of the Enterprise Group, Executive VP and General Manager, Bill Veghte. “The core of our strategy in converged cloud is about making sure that we are building and delivering a cloud that enterprises can rely on,” said Veghte. “Our belief is that it is going to be a hybrid world.” And I could not agree more. Almost by definition, the introduction of anything viewed as game-changing will come about with the new coupled with the old in much the same way as we see electric motors coupled to combustion engines.

Among those with views on hybrid computers, and actively working in the more traditional area of better mainframe – NonStop hybrids, is Infrasoft managing Director, Peter Shell. “Shortly after we developed uLinga we understood that there would be two components. The first was directed at SNAX and ICE users looking for a more modern, better supported, solution and uLinga for DLSw and uLinga for EE are examples. The second takes uLinga into a new area of application integration.”

Shell then suggested, “With so much being discussed about hybrid computing today, we shouldn’t overlook the traditional NonStop – IBM mainframe ‘hybrids’ that have existed for many decades. Integrating, and indeed simplifying, communications between respective transactional environments has many upsides and with uLinga for CICS and uLinga for IMS, application integration can be taken to a whole new level.” Perhaps a twist on burning gas and rubber, hybrid computing embracing resources upstream and downstream – a qualification that might lose some impact in our peer-to-peer oriented world – shouldn’t be ignored.

“In addressing hybrid IBM / NonStop configurations, there are only three courses you can pursue,” Shell observed. “You can write your own NonStop application, possibly as a raw sockets application, and implement your own application to application protocol. It is possible but difficult to maintain in the long term. You could even opt to use another transport mechanism, such as MQ, but this is bringing in additional complexity and cost with no guarantees NonStop implementations will stay current.”

However, it is in the third option where a more modern approach can be taken, asserts Shell who then notes that, “With uLinga, applications utilize current IBM protocols and services via an implementation on NonStop that assures seamless and optimum application to application communication specifically, from NonStop subsystems such as Pathway (TS/MP) into IBM CICS and / or IMS.”

Simplifying the creation of a mainframe – NonStop hybrid, Shell said, is helped considerably as, “Today, we support NonStop specific interfaces such as the Guardian IPC and SNAX/HLS and SNAX/APC APIs, as well as vanilla TCP/IP interfaces intended for those who prefer to write sockets applications. Looking further afield, there will be support for MQ interfaces shortly for those users who would prefer to interface to uLingu for CICS or uLinga for IMS via MQ verbs, without any need to run WebSphere MQ on the NonStop Server or on the IBM mainframe.”

HP firmly believes it will be a hybrid world and while the context for such statements is assumed to be Cloud computing, it might be a little short sighted to ignore the history of NonStop and the reputation it has earned from decades of experience with hybrid configurations lying deep within our data centers. HP also recognizes that even as enterprises turn to Clouds to bolster available resources, the entrenched mainframe – NonStop hybrid may in fact turn out to be an ideal path to Clouds. What better use of an intelligent front-end, already in place, than to leverage it for more robust mainframe to Cloud access?

“IBM mainframes remain entrenched in many enterprises just as NonStop continues to prove hard to displace. Hybrid computing inside the data center will continue for many years to come – the investments made in the applications total well into the billions of dollars,” concluded Shell. “Simplifying the interconnections – between NonStop and the mainframe as well between NonStop and the Cloud - is a bonus that few CIOs would walk away from if they knew the option existed. Infrasoft with its partner comForte have already experienced early success with uLinga and will continue to market this message as aggressively as we can in the coming year.”

No ugly boxes here as there is a sense of beauty in the symmetry of such connectivity options – looking at the PowerPoint slides I was developing only added to my belief that there would be potential in deploying NonStop servers in this way. Hybrid cars may take many more years before they become an attractive option for more than just societies fringe elements - yes, the Tesla S is a step in the right direction obviously – but it will eventuate. NonStop fortunately doesn’t have to wait; participating in hybrid configurations is in its genes.

On the other hand, to astute CIOs well versed in the capabilities and attributes of NonStop, perhaps the decision to leverage NonStop in new and exciting ways will not be as far-fetched an idea as some may hypothesize. For the near future, it will be a hybrid world and one where HP will be making a considerable investment. Isn’t it good to know that, showing good genes, NonStop has such a rich history in a hybrid world, with even more history yet to write!