Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Changes in procedures, changes in models – at HPE, NonStop set for further growth.

There have been numerous posts following recent press releases from HPE concerning Enterprise Services and Software. But for the NonStop community it’s all smooth sailing and the news says it all; NonStop is an integral part of HPE’s vision to become a major provider of infrastructure and platforms!

After decades of flying every week to every corner of the planet I seldom board a plane these days. In former times, however, even when not on business the first inkling concerning potential downtime would see me scanning airline sites for deals and checking my mileage balance to see what options I had. Neither my wife, Margo, nor me were born in the U.S. and arriving in the U.S. after we had become adults, American holidays didn’t mean all that much to us so we seldom hung around to participate. For a number of years we flew to Singapore, just for Thanksgiving, to enjoy chili crabs on Singapore’s south east coast.

In those days of constant flying I knew by heart all the different procedures in place at airports. Updates to terminals and gates were a constant test of one’s perseverance but I always managed to adapt pretty quickly. And yes, time zones never seemed to affect me back then and no matter the time of day, you would likely find me working away in a hotel lobby somewhere in the world. However, when I do get to fly these days I am so out of touch with current procedures that travel is no longer enjoyable and even the simplest requests by the airline staff can lead to stress – something I simply never experienced all those years ago.

We are all creatures of routines. For us, following protocols and understanding procedures simply reflect the order we desire as we go about living our lives. However, when it comes to large corporations it is though we live in times where we have to prepare for change to happen almost as regularly as some of us take to the skies. For the NonStop community, this has been the case almost from the time of the HP / Compaq merger. It seems that almost with every quarter that passes there’s news of one kind or another starting with the big announcement that HP was going to release NonStop on blades to where we now have NonStop on x86 from HPE. Exciting news, of course, and the stuff that keeps us focused on just how well NonStop meets our business needs. And when it comes to organization, change is happening almost as often.

In the last couple of posts I have written about the most recent changes hitting the newswire. HP has split to become HP Inc. and HP Enterprise (HPE). HPE in turn has announced the retirement of Martin Fink, HPE CTO, and then proceeded to pursue “spin-merges” of both its Services and Software organizations. If you were a shareholder in the former HP and had elected to hold onto your shares then life has become very interesting indeed and opened the doors to more astute gauging of the value proposition of your holdings. And this is an important backdrop to any new discussions the NonStop community is now having when it comes to the future of NonStop.

In all the years since the HP / Compaq merger, financial analysts were at a loss as to how best to categorize HP. Was it a consumer company selling through big box stores? Was it a server and software company? Was it a growth company or was it a value company? Was it even just a finance company? Of course this inability to categorize the HP of that time led to stock valuations well below what otherwise may have been considered fair value. After all, if there was no other company in the same category, was it even a legitimate category? Clearly, HP had to do something to (a) unlock the true value of HP for its shareholders, and (b) manage the different financial models under which each business unit operated.

All too often discussions within the NonStop community centered on HPE’s investments in NonStop. These discussions arose following questions on whether NonStop was profitable or not and whether the revenue was sufficient to justify continued investments in NonStop. When a company makes $130billion in revenue, does a product line bringing perhaps one or two billion really warrant as much management attention as was needed? Did marketing and then again sales, really need to invest resources to support? Again, it came down to categories – just how big is the market for fault tolerant systems? Surely, near 99% availability was good enough!

The spin-merge of HPE Enterprise Services with CSC and then, just recently, the proposed spin-merge of HPE Software with Micro Focus is welcomed news to financial analysts and shareholder alike. When the dust finally settles sometime in 2017 and with no further roadblocks appearing that could delay the process, shareholders will be holding stock in HP Inc. HPE, CSC and Micro Focus – shares in companies operating in four well-defined markets; Consumer, Enterprise Infrastructure and Platforms, Services, and Software.

But again, for the NonStop community, this spin-merge of services and indeed software, didn’t involve NonStop. After a year or so promoting NonStop as the best software platform on the planet, HPE has acknowledged that NonStop isn’t a part of the “non-core software” that participated in the spin-merge with Micro Focus. As for Enterprise Services, these weren’t the services HPE needed when it came to supporting customer deployments of HPE infrastructure and platforms. Rather, that is the role of the Enterprise group’s Technology Services (TS) which remains an integral part of the new HPE.

If you missed it, the HPE News Release of September 7, 2016, HPE Accelerates Strategy With SpinOff and Merger of Non-Core Software Assets With Micro Focus - HPE to retain key software assets to deliver on the promise of hybrid IT is a must read for everyone in the NonStop community. It describes, in no uncertain terms, what HPE considers as its non-core software assets even as it asserts that those software assets contributing to the delivering “on the promise of hybrid IT” will be retained. NonStop is one of those key software assets according to Randy Meyer, Vice President and General Manager, Mission Critical Systems.

I referenced this News Release in my post of September 15, 2016, Changes for the better? HPE to focus on what it does best; infrastructure and platforms! However, what I want to make perfectly clear is just how important the organizational changes that came with the news that Software was following Enterprise Services in its own spin-merge. Reflecting the changing revenue model of the slimmed down HPE – now expected to be just a little less than $30billion and a far cry from a year ago when the much bigger HP generated revenues of $130billion – the priority has been to bring greater focus onto the infrastructure and platforms HPE believes will be key to differentiating its portfolio from those of its competitors.

“When you consider the non-core assets that are part of this latest spin-merge, it’s important to understand that they operated within different business models, with different business processes and indeed, a whole different approach to financials,” said Randy Meyer. “These non-core software products represented software that competed in the software business arena whereas the software assets retained all contribute to HPE being able to deliver on its vision of being a major provider of infrastructure and platforms.”

Furthermore, when it comes to organization, the Enterprise Group has announced the formation of three major groups: one focusing on software-defined and cloud technologies, one focused on data center infrastructure, and one focused on edge technologies and the internet of things. Additionally, there is also Technology Services as noted earlier that was already established to help all three of these groups deliver on opportunities that arise from sales of infrastructure and platforms coming out of the Enterprise Group.

“Mission Critical Systems is part of the newly formed data center infrastructure group (DCIG) and for a reason,” said Randy Meyer. “NonStop remains a value play within the data center where fault tolerance is still required for select markets. It is making a financial contribution to DCIG at a time when there is disruptive transition under way as we watch private clouds take off and the melding of traditional IT with private clouds provides great potential for NonStop development.”

There are changes in procedures even as there are changes in business models. In the coming quarters we will see the appearance of virtual NonStop (vNonStop) that will be provided independent of the hardware and the NonStop group is busily sorting out the processes that need to be in place for the NonStop community to be able to order NonStop as software only. In all likelihood, Technology Services will be looking to provide best practices to ensure NonStop as software lives up to user expectations when it comes to fault tolerance – reference architectures will be developed even as the HPE sales and marketing teams work to identify new markets for NonStop. Yes, NonStop is going to be a big part of HPE, something that NonStop community is only getting its first glimpse as HPE IT commits to running its DataBase-as-a-Service based on NonStop SQL on virtual NonStop.

So let me be as unambiguous as I can. In case you still need to be reminded of the pertinent points following these recent news releases from HPE. NonStop is not considered “non-core software” but rather, an integral component as HPE pushes deeper into the marketplace for infrastructure and platforms. Furthermore, the NonStop organization remains firmly within the Mission Critical Systems (MCS) group and as such, is now a part of the core group, Data Center Infrastructure Group (DCIG). Randy Meyer remains the head of MCS and as such, has the responsibility for NonStop – no change there. And finally, NonStop today is in good shape demonstrating quarter over quarter growth with margin sufficient to support further investments in the NonStop product line.

It’s probably not inappropriate to say that we are all as pleased as we are today to see that NonStop has survived – the hard work to turn the NonStop ship around and return it to profitability has been done. Attendees at last year’s NonStop Technical Boot Camp can all recall the challenge the NonStop team faced when asked to “fix it, or exit.” And fix it they did – NonStop X together with SuperDome X are running on the Intel x86 architecture and has proved to be a major positive turning point for NonStop. But it’s only the beginning.

The new HPE needs NonStop and the steps it has just taken to better address the needs of the financial industry and shareholders will be trickling down to individual groups within HPE and with that, for the first time in a long while, the NonStop community can rest assured in the knowledge that today, NonStop has become one of the all-important key software assets contributing to the delivering on the promise of hybrid IT!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Changes for the better? HPE to focus on what it does best; infrastructure and platforms!

Hard to miss reading one article or another on what is taking place within HPE and for the NonStop community, questions were being asked. NonStop had become the best software platform on the planet – was it being sold, too? The answer is no, it isn’t!

Fortune smiled on me rather gently this week. I returned to the local motorcycle shop to pick up my cruiser. A considerable amount of work had been done on it after it’s been sitting in our garage for more than two years, unused and somewhat unloved. However, it’s amazing what care and attention can do for an old-world cruiser but as I pulled into the shop, it began to rain. I haven’t been on a motorcycle for all of those two plus years, so looking as the clouds gathered and the raindrops grew heavier, I was a little concerned. Fortunately, getting back on the motorcycle revived past memories and no, you never forget how to ride a bike. You just have to get back into the saddle.

I have to believe that at HPE much the same concerns passed through the minds of its executives. It wasn’t so much the rain that was a concern as it was the clouds gathering on the horizon. And I am not posting about the clouds that cross our skies but rather, the growing presence of clouds in enterprise data centers. When it comes to clouds, just like those we see in the sky (many times taking on the shape of familiar objects), oftentimes all we appreciate is how fluffy they look and how soft they seem to be – software-defined everything is becoming the response from enterprises as they too contemplate the new IT order made up of constantly morphing pools of resources.  To HPE, all the recent investments in products and human resources that aren’t directly reusable in the cloud computing marketplace looked increasingly like they were addressing legacy requirements. They might be good cash cows in the short term but HPE wasn’t about to take a back seat and simply milk the past. HPE recognizes the need to tap the momentum developing around clouds and to ride that momentum well into the future. And so they have acted, and acted rather dramatically!

I suspect that by now you have all read the announcements from HPE this week. Yes, apparently the die has been cast and HPE is now out of the services business and out of the software business. Looking back over the past couple of months, even with all the rumors that circulated widely, it’s all happened pretty quickly. But what does it really mean for the NonStop community? After taking a lot of pride in cementing the role of NonStop as the best software platform on the planet, has that only led to an increased vulnerability for NonStop?

Before addressing these questions, it’s a good idea to take a closer look at what HPE is telling the industry. With the news breaking of the spin-merge of HPE Software with Micro Focus, HPE published the news release late September 7, 2016, CEO Meg Whitman on HPE’s Plans to Spin-Off & Merge Non-Core Software Assets With Micro Focus -Company doubles down on delivering software-defined hybrid IT solutions. In that news release was the explanation from Meg Whitman, HPE CEO, that, “When we launched the new HPE, we laid out a vision of being the industry's leading provider of hybrid IT, built on the secure, next-generation, software-defined infrastructure that will run customers' data centers today, bridge them to multi-cloud environments tomorrow, and enable the emerging intelligent edge that will power campus, branch and IoT applications for decades to come.” 

Explaining this further, Ric Lewis, senior vice president for the software-defined and cloud group at HPE, told Infoworld in the article that followed the September 8, 2016, announcement of the pending sale of HPE Software to Micro Focus, What's left at HPE is focused squarely on the hybrid and private cloud “To achieve this vision, we've been busy realigning our portfolio and product roadmap with our go-forward strategy. In just the last few months, we announced enhancements and new products across storage, infrastructure, converged systems, cloud and a truly differentiated set of edge compute products for the Internet of Things." Furthermore, added Lewis, “The whole world is talking about the public cloud growing, but not that many people are noticing that the private cloud is growing at double-digit rates as well. That's a huge opportunity for us.”

As Whitman explained the moves behind the realignment, she reiterated that, “Today's announced spin-merge of our non-core software assets with Micro Focus is another important step in our strategy to unlock a faster growing, higher margin, stronger cash flow company. As we said in the Enterprise Services announcement last quarter, both software and services remain key enablers of our go-forward strategy, and we are focused on building the right portfolio to win in our target markets. We believe the portfolio changes we've made over the past year are setting up HPE for long-term success while unlocking tremendous value for our shareholders." 

HPE has also unveiled a new look organization now that the company has become just a combination of the Enterprise Group and the Finance Group. As the article in InfoWorld noted, “‘HPE's strategy for the future is to focus on hybrid IT,’ said Ric Lewis, senior vice president for the software-defined and cloud group at HPE. Accordingly, it recently formed three core business groups within HPE's Enterprise Group division: one focusing on software-defined and cloud technologies, one focused on data centre infrastructure, and one focused on edge technologies and the internet of things. It is retaining the software efforts that are central to its hybrid IT focus, Lewis said in his interview with InfoWorld, including the CloudSystem brand, HPE OneView, Helion OpenStack, and its software-defined storage and networking products.”

Retaining software central to its hybrid IT focus is an important consideration. NonStop is now playing an active role when it comes to the ongoing transformation to hybrid infrastructures integrating traditional IT with private clouds and products have already begun to ship that make it easier for enterprise customers to capitalize on the benefits that come with private clouds. But again, what of NonStop and its current organization, Mission Critical Systems? According to Randy Meyer, Vice President & General Manager, Mission Critical Systems (MCS) at HPE, MCS is now “part of the Data Center Infrastructure Group (DCIG).”

With this return to infrastructure and platforms HPE may not be the size of company it was just a short time ago when the world knew of only HP. But the changes are definitely for the better. HPE may have sold off its legacy software offerings – yes, anything that isn’t contributing to a software-defined everything HPE has lumped into the legacy category – and the rapidity with which NonStop development has pursued virtual NonStop brings it now into the realm of software-defined infrastructure. And with MCS, including the NonStop organization, becoming part of the strategically important group, DCIG, for the NonStop community this is perhaps the most significant change of all!

Riding my own motorcycle up the driveway into my home, with the falling rain easing considerably,  can not be considered an accomplishment on the same scale as to what HPE has achieved these past couple of weeks. And yet as I turned skyward, there is never any rain without clouds! The more I look into the changes taking place within HPE the more I see a resurgence of enthusiasm in support of the many things NonStop does particularly well. NonStop SQL/MX, for instance, is the best-suited to OLTP of any databases available today – when it comes to mixed workloads, in parallel, it is simply without peer. With NonStop, customers can leverage the best software on the planet even as they are assured it is a platform crucial to HPE’s future.

The InfoWorld article closed with a particularly telling observation coming from Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy. “I’m actually relieved HPE is getting back to what everyone knows they do well, and that's infrastructure and platforms,” said Moorhead. “‘Big’ and application software didn't work well for HPE, and I think they have the potential to move much more quickly in the future in areas where they can make a real impact.” Perhaps then, all things considered, we should be singing right along with Eric Clapton – Let it rain! Let it rain! Let it rain!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The song remains the same – major events of importance to the NonStop community

Embracing virtualization, integrating analystics and turning to clouds may be all part of the plan but it may be the messages coming from industry and user events that influence us most. And the more technology appears to change, in reality, we stay the same!

In the coming weeks I will be attending numerous events but perhaps for me, the most beneficial of them all will be the two held on opposite sides of the continent. In late September, I will be travelling to Chicago, IL for the September 19-21, 2016, 2016 Bank Customer Experience Summit and then in November, I will turn around and head in the other direction, towards San Jose, CA, for the November 13-16, 2016, 2016 NonStop Technical Boot Camp. These two events will feature networking with customers from financial industries as well as interacting with HPE executives that will provide me with the ideal backdrop for the numerous stories and posts that will follow.

The 2016 Bank Customer Experience Summit, originally branded as the The ATM & Mobile Innovation Summit, is dedicated to exploring next-gen self-service, the reinvented branch, digital banking, mobile payments — and the people who use them. An August 11, 2016, post to the ATMmarketplace web site, by Suzanne Cluckey, 7 reasons why the Bank Customer Experience Summit should be on your fall travel calendar is well worth reading if you are looking for more information about this event and shortly my own post will be published on this site – look for it as well. For those NonStop users running payments solutions that would like to attend, simply follow this link, Register now and to save 30% off the price of registration, enter the promotional code, PYALLA30. If you would like to check out what will be taking place at the event you can follow this link, Agenda.

It is a reality today that in our always-on world we rarely think twice about how our communications works – for me it’s still close to magic as so much can go wrong between a client end-point and a services delivery end-point. People should be pleased when anything at all simply works, but yes, it’s very much magic by my books. The same can be said about mobile devices today as very few users of smartphones and tablets are aware of all that transpires whenever they text or download a picture. Streaming songs and movies? Unbelievable!

And yet it all happens with little consideration being given to just how it all happens. People have now reached a point where mobility is the new norm and so when it comes to an event on ATMs and Mobility, changing the name of the event to Bank Customer Experience just seems natural – why wouldn’t we assume mobility is a key factor in banking today and just part of any experience we may have when it comes to oversight of our financial affairs?

The HPE event on the other hand, plumbs the depths of technology. The essential plumbing that so many of us are simply ignorant about and where we always assume, it just works. From the introduction of the first ATMs to the general populace, Tandem Computers gave the world the potential to operate ATMs 24 X 7 and some of the earliest payments solutions targeted the Tandem Computer platform. Today, Tandem Computers is no more. Instead, renamed NonStop systems and a key part of HPE’s Mission Critical Systems product portfolio, they still account for the processing of much of the world’s ATM traffic. According to the latest figures from HPE, $3.6+ trillion in debit card (including bank cards and ATM cards) and credit card charge volume passes through NonStop systems each year and the largest retail payments processors in the world run on NonStop. 

Among the more popular solutions is OmniPayments and I have known Yash Kapadia, the OmniPayments, Inc. CEO, for many years. He has been a very good source for updates on how people worldwide interact with financial institutions. His products run exclusively on NonStop systems and he has become one of the largest users of the latest NonStop X systems having already populated three of OmniPayments data centers with NonStop X systems underpinning the new OmniCloudX services – yes, payments on NonStop from out of a cloud. At this next Boot Camp event Yash is throwing a reception mid-evening Monday night, specifically for the purposes of giving event attendees an opportunity to network among themselves following the sessions that day and if the past is any indication of what to expect, this reception is among the liveliest all week! I hope to see you in the Gold room Monday evening, the reception will start at 8:30 pm.

HPE and the Connect organization are now working through submitted proposals for presentations and this should be resolved shortly. If you want to keep abreast of who will be the keynote speakers and whose papers made the cut, then check the Agenda page on a regular basis and make sure you complete the Registration as early as you can. It will be tough to top last year’s program but I know that over the past year so much progress has been made with NonStop X, with perhaps the biggest news of all is just how committed HPE itself is to anchoring its own IT on NonStop with virtual NonStop (vNonStop) in support of NS SQL/MX running as a DBaaS at the very heart of HPE’s operations. Like many who will be attending I am more than interested in hearing all the details of how this has been helping HPE transform to a hybrid infrastructure.

Where I suspect the intersection between these two events will more than likely occur will be on the topic of Big Data and Data Analytics. Everything that takes place today is being influenced by companies understanding the ever-changing behaviors of people and this includes financial institutions as much as it does those vendors providing the underlying plumbing. We need to know what’s on the minds of people from the time they sit down for a coffee to the time they swipe or insert their card to purchase a product just added to their shopping cart.

I am finding that analytics is permeating almost every discussion I have had in the past couple of months – from security to application monitoring and SLA validation to the monitoring of the physical data center itself (Power, HVAC, Fire-Suppression, Communications and Networks, etc.). As my good friends at Striim Inc. so often remind me, providing “an end-to-end, real-time data integration and intelligence platform; ingesting data in real-time from a wide variety of sources; making it more valuable while it's streaming before loading it to common data targets” is all critical today for better interaction with people whether end users, business partners, or simply their IT staff.

We write and talk so much about our customers and about consumers but in the end, it’s all about people. What I particularly liked about the post by Suzanne Cluckey on the 7 Reasons to attend 2016 Bank Customer Experience Summit were her opening sentences. “The new Ikea catalog arrived at our house yesterday. I haven't thumbed through it yet, but I doubt anything in it will grab my attention the way the cover did,” Cluckey began. “It wasn't the photo that got my attention, with its predictable assortment of ultra-hipster types looking uber-cool around a Norråker dining table. It was the tagline above: ‘Designed for people, not consumers.’” The upcoming events may differ in agendas even as they differ in the networking opportunities that arise but the people attending the events, well, we remain people and not just clients, customers, prospects or users. And as people, we are the lifeblood that keeps all such events lively and yes, keeps us all coming back for more!

It was while I was travelling country to country in the 1970s that I first heard Led Zeppelin perform The Song Remains the Same:
Oh, yeah
Crazy dream, uh-huh
Anything I wanted to know
Any place I needed to go …

This was Led Zeppelin's lead singer Robert Plant's tribute to world music, reflecting his belief that music is universal. And the aspirations of people are universal as well. Even as we are witnessing a revolution in the way people interact with all that is around them – other people, commerce, news and in general, the environment each person moves through – staying connected to friends and family and being informed about what’s happening in the world at large, has changed very little. Furthermore, as what is around us is subject to the seasons - if you compare the photo above with that included in the previous post published just a week or so ago, you can see the changes taking place - so the ebb and flow between centralization and distributed continues unabated even as we continue to behave much the same way we always have.

We may carry less cash but we still shop. We may wear our computers and we may be constantly on the move but we still find time to stop by a coffee shop and take time to check out all that’s happening. And the oversight of our financial affairs is now something we do 24 X 7 even as we are less likely to pull out our bill fold or purse preferring instead whatever gadget of the day has captured our attention. While the instruments of commerce have changed dramatically of late we have remained essentially the same through all this change – something few of us will likely ever forget. Looking forward to seeing many of you at these events and should you see me passing by, don’t hesitate stopping me. I’m always open for any discussion you may want to have! 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Inside the numbers … when being #1 matters!

There are many instances where being number one is important; combinations of platforms, technologies and databases is continuing to propel NonStop X to the top of the list when it comes to systems anchoring modern data centers.

The faint hint of smoke rising from the outside kitchen is a clue that there’s something on the grill, as for the past couple of weeks the weather has simply been too good to stay indoors. The greater Denver area, including Boulder, boasts of being #1 when it comes to sunny days with 300 days of sun per year. Numbers have been very much on my mind this past week and it wasn’t simply because I had been counting sunny days or even because I had passed another blogging milestone with my last post to this blog.

I’m not sure what the count is up to, but with the most recent event that took place this month in Sydney, Australia, in support of the OzTUG community and with another next month to be put on by the folks at VNUG at Rånäs Slott, just outside Stockholm, Sweden, there have been a lot of NonStop user events this year even as the planet appears to be well-covered by NonStop enthusiasts. There really shouldn’t be any reason to miss any gathering of the NonStop community that takes place near to you but unfortunately for me, even though I am well-supported by my clients, the numbers are just too great to be able to say that I will make them all!

It was numbers of a different kind that caught my attention this week. It was ETI-Net’s CEO, Andy Hall, who first drew my attention to a news item I had missed concerning SGIs acceptance of HPE’s purchase offer for the company. According to the August 11, 2016, news release from SGI,
Hewlett Packard Enterprise to Acquire SGI to Extend Leadership in High Growth Big Data Analytics and High Performance Computing, the deal looks to be done but a look at the numbers has led to questions being asked. This isn’t the SGI we once all knew, the one that for a time dominated the landscape of Silicon Valley. That SGI went bust quite a while ago, but somehow assets (including the name) were acquired by Rackable Systems who promptly rebranded themselves as SGI.

Back to the numbers! According to SGI’s news release, it has “approximately 1,100 employees worldwide, and had revenues of $533 million in fiscal 2016.” And yet, HPE’s successful offer was only “for $7.75 per share in cash, a transaction valued at approximately $275 million, net of cash and debt.” It should come as no surprise that questions were being asked and lots of comments were being made as soon as the news of the acquisition was made public.  Opinions ranged from talk that HPE didn’t really have a big data strategy to perhaps HPE not having the best solution in SuperDome X to match the servers SGI was now selling – particularly when it comes to the all-important SAP HANA customers – to perhaps it being a preemptive strike to take SGI out of possible acquisition contention from other vendors, most notably Dell and Cisco. Both Dell and Cisco have been reselling SGI servers with considerable success. 

Again, from the news release, “‘At HPE, we are focused on empowering data-driven organizations,’ said Antonio Neri, executive vice president and general manager, Enterprise Group, Hewlett Packard Enterprise. ‘SGI's innovative technologies and services, including its best-in-class big data analytics and high performance computing solutions, complement HPE's proven data center solutions designed to create business insight and accelerate time to value for customers.’” On one hand, you have to say, did HPE then get the deal of the century or what?

Approximately $275 million, net of cash and debt will buy you a leading edge contender for best hardware offering in support of big data and its resultant actionable insight! And with it, the potential to grab a big chunk of the SAP HANA market!  When you think of the numbers that have been thrown around previously for acquisitions by HPE, for a major vendor generating tens of billions of dollars in annual revenue this just has to be the steal of the decade!

On the other hand, has the media forgotten that HPE has enjoyed a partnership with SGI for some time so in a sense, taking the next step and purchasing SGI may have been more of a no-brainer than at first thought. According to a February 9, 2016, column in the publication, The Next Platform,
HPE fill a NUMA server gap with SGV UV iron, “HPE admits that it has a gap in its product line.” Working together, HPE and SGI have been chasing those customers “who want big memory machines,” but for HPE to go alone – and yes, they could have – and invest the money required, made little sense.

And what’s the key driver for scale-up machines with big memory? Databases; in particular, in-memory databases! When it comes to big memory machines “SGI already has such a machine in its UltraViolet 300 series that is based on its own NUMALink 7 interconnect and – perhaps most importantly – it is already certified to run Linux as well as some of the databases that some HPE customers want to run.”

In an interview given to The Next Platform, Jeff Kyle, Director, Product Management for Enterprise Servers, HPE, told the reporter that, “
doing a (partnership) deal with SGI to offer a more scalable eight-socket machine aimed at database workloads was in keeping with HPE’s mission to offer the right technology at the right time at the right price, and it didn’t hurt that the SGI UV machines come in a rack form factor that is more compact than the Superdome X.” Furthermore, “With this (partnership) deal, HPE is going after business that Lenovo, using the former System x line from IBM, has been aggressively pursuing, according to Kyle, in the eight socket space.” 

But wait, there’s one more thing and I believe it has relevance for the NonStop community. After rereading the various articles that followed the press release on SGI, I have to ask - will this add further weight to the primary message of transformation to a hybrid infrastructure? Will this dovetail nicely with the already strong message of converged infrastructure that ties together traditional IT with private clouds? Purely musings on my part of course and more than likely leading to further clarification by those much closer to the HPE - SGI deal.

So let me transition to the most important number of all yet again – being #1! For some time I have been posting about the possibility of NonStop SQL/MX becoming the OLTP database for applications like SAP when the system configurations are hybrids. HPE IT is testing NS SQL/MX as a Service, provisioned from within an IT private cloud. But SAP HANA is all about in-memory databases and while HANA can support both row and column organization, for most users, it is the columnar organization that comes to the fore.  As one blogger observed recently, “Use rows for transactions, where you’re trying to enter data. Use columns for analytics, where you’re trying to look at data.”

HANA protagonists go to great pains to say HANA can do both – “In HANA, a table can be row-oriented or column-oriented; the programmer (or data designer) simply decides which it is to be.” However, from where I sit, the expectation is that HANA will be most beneficial in support of analytics and this is where NS SQL/MX comes in. Leave HANA to support the columnar processing, in-memory if you prefer, that we associate with data analytics, and let NS SQL/MX do the row processing we associate with transaction processing. And for sure, this will provide a compelling #1 solution for many enterprises where SAP has become deeply entrenched; wrapped up under the cloaking of HPE’s primary message – transformation to a hybrid infrastructure.

I am still to confirm whether there is dependence on SAP HANA within HPE but my suspicions are that there is. Just as Oracle is on its way out at HPE, the quest for answers has led to a renewed faith in NonStop and in particular, NonStop SQL/MX. Has the quest for faster SAP HANA led to the purchase of SGI? Have the news agencies only got the story half right – sure, throwing up roadblocks for the likes of Dell and Cisco may look the more obvious ploy but pulling together the pieces for a powerful NonStop / SAP HANA hybrid looks awfully appealing. And to think, for numbers Silicon Valley just don’t seem to get these days – a pittance involving just a few hundred million dollars!  When it comes to major vendors, could big savings become the true measure of being #1?

Saturday, August 20, 2016

You want to read more? Posts on NonStop enter their tenth year!

With this post to the NonStop community blog, Real Time View, I celebrate the beginning of my tenth year of blogging. Keeping to the theme of HPE , Mission Critical Systems and in particular, NonStop, has proved fertile ground for a storyteller and I expect no letup in new topics to cover in the years to come …

If there was ever a time when I thought I could simply kick-back, relax and write a few posts as I quietly ease away from technology I can no longer recall when that was exactly. This summer I have spent more time in front of the keyboard than I can recall ever having done before. However, the good news is that well, there’s more good news than ever before. And I cannot recall the last time I said that or said it without harboring lingering thoughts myself over whether or not I was pushing a little beyond the realm of reality. However, putting those thoughts to one side, Margo and I headed to our favorite Boulder steakhouse where we did kick-back and relax while we celebrated the passing of this milestone.

But no, for the NonStop community things are definitely looking up and I have to admit I really am energized by all that I am hearing about NonStop. Perhaps sitting down with Andy Bergholz, Senior Director of Development of HPE NonStop, during HPE Discover 2016 did it as his enthusiasm has proved contagious and it rubbed on me – and for that I have only Andy to thank. Did you see his column in the July – August, 2016, issue of The Connection? If you haven’t then you should as you will get a sense of what I am alluding to. It’s positively entertaining, to quote one popular television series I regularly watch.
There is a reason why we have the expression about enthusiasm being contagious. It’s hard not to become engaged when all around you there are people actively engaged in conversations about NonStop. Now, having said that there are a couple of words I have eliminated from my vocabulary of late – no more references to legacy, proprietary or even to special, unique or just plain different. What NonStop brings to the table is excellence.

In the key markets it serves, mission critical transaction processing, where every transaction executes in real time, NonStop excels. It’s at the top of the charts when it comes to availability and given the ongoing discussions after the fallout from some massive outages of late for airlines around the world, we should be shouting as loudly as we can about the merits of NonStop! If IDC continues to reward NonStop with the prestigious AL4 badge – something no other vendors can lay claim to, although IBM pushes close with its Parallel Sysplex configurations, but you try looking over the wall-charts describing all the paths between the mainframes in the Sysplex and you will understand that even for Parallel Sysplex it’s annotated with an asterisk!

My plans for kicking back and relaxing have been interrupted this week for one additional very good reason. With this post to the NonStop community blog, Real Time View, I start my tenth year of blogging on HPE and NonStop. If you missed it, page all the way back to the post of August 20, 2007, where I introduced myself to the community as perhaps the very first blogger supporting NonStop. In that post I finished with the observation and question - what did we all think about the recent HPTF&E - how many events do you go to each year?

HPTF&E has been long gone, replaced by HPE Discover that in turn has been complemented by the end of year NonStop Technical Boot Camp event, but the question – how many events do you go to each year? is a very relevant question and for me, very important. Local events have begun to flourish around the world – I had been hoping to make it to OzTUG for their event in a few days’ time even as others are preparing to travel to VNUG (I was present at a luncheon when the decision was taken to re-launch VNUG and to rename it VNUG from VTUG back in the early 2000s) but no, I couldn’t pull off the trip this year to the VNUG event or to find time for a trip down under.

For every member of the NonStop community they should be able to make it to a user event somewhere on the planet at least twice a year – their local user group meeting as well as more widely attended GEO event, either in EMEA or the Americas. If you aren’t able to pull off making the journey then you aren’t alone as I have to make some hard decisions and skip a couple each year but I will blog about each and every one I attend. And that’s the real value that comes with blogging – sharing information. Alerting the community whenever something exciting transpires! Keeping NonStop in the headlines no matter what.

As the day approached for the start of my tenth year, I emailed Randy Meyer, Vice President & General Manager, Mission Critical Systems, HPE. Through the years, Randy and I have exchanged many emails on the topic of spreading more ink on NonStop across the industry. On numerous occasions, as busy as Randy has been of late, he has found time to sit down with Margo and me over coffee and for that, we are both highly appreciative – it was Randy’s initial encouragement all those years ago that helped motivate me to blog.

Randy’s response to the news of this particular anniversary was to the point and yet again, reflective of Randy’s own enthusiasm for all things NonStop. “I’m not in the least surprised that you still have interesting and exciting things to write about, and that it’s more popular than ever,” said Randy. “The NonStop team continues to drive innovative solutions help the most demanding customers in the world run their businesses – all day, every day. Who WOULDN’T want to read about that?”

It was as I entered my third year of blogging that I talked about why social media was becoming as important as it is today – it’s where many of us first learn of something new. In that post of September 13, 2009, And the rockets' red glare! I quoted web-sales teaching guru, Brian Clark. “So, blogging can be vitally important, but most likely it will open doors for you that lead to revenue or help you promote things you are selling, as opposed to generating a ton of money from advertising,” he suggested. “There’s a huge shift going on thanks to globalization and the growth of the Internet, and those who can create and express ideas online will be at the top end of the economic spectrum.”

As with everything you run across on the Internet, I then added, you have to be a little careful when applying all that is conveyed by gurus and other thought-leaders. However, I continued in that post, the basic observations Clark makes remain valid; “product placements” in blogs are becoming just as important as in any other medium, and the trend today is that more and more people are relying on the Internet for all of their product information. Ignoring this medium and letting your competitors gain the upper-hand, will be tough to reverse when you wake up and finally “get it!”

And that has been one of the most encouraging aspects of my blogging – from the earliest days, even as I was working at GoldenGate, it was Sami Akbay, then VP of Product Management and Marketing, who told others at GoldenGate that indeed, I get it! And I have to admit, Sami did understand the potential to effectively and rather inexpensively communicate a message and when it comes to NonStop well, I blogged non stop. I also have to thank at this time Yash of OmniPayments. Without Yash’s longtime support and indeed encouragement, I am not sure I would have had enough stories to tell and as anyone who knows Yash well, there are plenty of stories yet to tell.

Do I envision kicking back any time soon and to seriously consider taking it easy? The short answer is heck, no! As a community we are sitting atop the best potential for NonStop making a difference, ever. Yes, ever. The market has truly turned and is coming to NonStop. And I have to admit, to reuse Randy’s words, with many more years to come and even more posts to be written, then “Who WOULDN’T want to read about that?”

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Where do we turn for news? For the NonStop community, it’s all in blog posts!

Blog posts may very well have replaced any need for post-it notes but the goals are similar – simplified newsworthy communications targeting interested parties; for the NonStop community today’s many blogs are where much of what’s interesting about NonStop is disseminated!

Where do we get our information today? Where do we turn for the news that matters most? It wasn’t all that long ago that we took real photos and dragged them out only occasionally to remind ourselves of past experiences and as to our friends, well, they were grateful when we kept the evidence of past adventures well and truly hid away. But today? With Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter – we can see it all and blog posts keep the storyline moving along, no matter the audience. The question today is what did we do before social media exploded onto the scene as vibrantly as it has of late?

In an episode of the now defunct sitcom, Sex and the City, the central character, Carrie Bradshaw, complained bitterly to her friends about her boyfriend announcing the break-up of their relationship via a simple message on a post-it note stuck to her refrigerator. In a surprising update to this mode of communication it would appear that a blog post is having a similar effect for many in business – is reading about a change in responsibilities or worse, being let go, in a company blog on par with how Bradshaw reacted to that infamous post-it note?

Companies, technologies and indeed products, are all subject today of blog posts. Should you need to know what’s happening to your favorite tool, utility, product or solution – there is bound to be a post published somewhere! The press as well as business and financial analysts all have blogs and they have taken over as the principle source for news on current developments. No working hour goes by for me without checking a couple of blog sites to see if anything surprising has taken place, and of course it would be hard for me to ignore all that is transpiring at HPE! If you haven’t been keeping up with the steady flow of posts then for the past two years at least, they have provided me with many of the story lines you will have seen in posts to this and other blogs where I contribute.

All of this came back to me as I pulled up announcements concerning not only Martin Fink’s retirement from the post of CTO but also the recent elevation of Ric Lewis to oversee the new group, Software-Defined & Cloud Group, where previously Lewis had been the senior vice president and general manager of converged data center infrastructure.  Both Fink and Lewis had strong connections with the NonStop community and yet, according to the press coverage I turned to, the news apparently was announced in a company blog.

HPE is putting its Helion OpenStack and Helion CloudSystem businesses into a new “Software-Defined & Cloud Group (SDCG),” to be headed by Ric Lewis, formerly senior vice president and general manager of converged data center infrastructure. It was in a web update from Fortune Magazine where I read, and I quote, from the blog: “By bringing these assets together, we create a single organization tasked with a common mission—to provide best-in-class solutions that enable developers and operators to deploy their applications across traditional and cloud infrastructures, simply and effortlessly. Mark Interrante will lead this team.” And yes, “Interrante will report to Lewis.”

For everyone in the NonStop community sympathy with the folks at Fortune Magazine is highly likely, as even among this venerable institutions’ journalists, it was hard to ignore how “Change is the norm at HPE, especially in cloud.” Now, I am not one to criticize the decisions coming from HPE of late nor will I be the one who raises an eyebrow over how much is happening within the companies executive suites, but I am just so glad that the NonStop products within the Mission Critical Systems group are doing as well as they are these days.

From every indication that I have, following HPE Discover 2016, I am now reasonably certain that sales revenues from NonStop have pushed past other product offerings in the Mission Critical Systems product portfolio, but then again, this is just an opinion I have formed so don’t hold me to this too stringently. And yet, this is probably the real situation within HPE’s Enterprise Group and if it is, rarely do vendors the size of HPE go around pulling the plug on such success. More importantly for the NonStop community is the sheer size of the recent investments in NonStop as it first moved to support the x86 architecture, then OpenStack as NonStop became free of not just the hardware but the infrastructure as well.

But post-it notes and blog postings may not tell the whole story or indeed, through omission, simply divert attention to matters less important. Follow the link on the HPE web site to the Mission Critical Computing Blog and it will take you to a page with the heading, Servers and Operating Systems – a little confusing I have to admit. But scroll down and there are numerous blog posts but find one on NonStop? After almost an hour of trolling through pages and checking the archives, I found only two posts for 2016 (and just six for all of 2015) with one of the two 2016 posts being  a summary of all sessions involving Mission Critical Systems at HPE Discover 2016.

Contrarians among us would argue that the only posts being featured on the HPE web site are from those systems and servers struggling to maintain market share – for NonStop, no “break-up of a relationship” messages is perhaps a good thing and more a reflection on the continued strong demand for NonStop systems in the marketplaces they serve.

It is my expectation that we are living in times where shipments of the Itanium-based NonStop i family will show significant growth, enough to surprise even the pundits proclaiming the demise of this family of NonStop systems. I just had the opportunity to spend time with a customer who has just ratcheted up their investment in NonStop i and for good reason – it’s stable and it’s a known quantity and for the community NonStop serves these remain important considerations. However, knowing there are new NonStop systems coming to market is a reassuring and seriously, highly newsworthy, development – you can’t see NonStop losing its sheen within HPE with even more options becoming available to run NonStop.

It is also my expectation that we are moving to a time when complementing Itanium-based NonStop with x86-based NonStop will accelerate many enterprises consideration of hybrid solutions made up of traditional systems working in combination with private clouds deployed right alongside x86-based NonStop on the very same servers – the label of commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware is now inclusive of NonStop with the work being done on providing a virtual NonStop (vNonStop), and that too is a message that resonates well with me. A vendor the size of HPE simply wouldn’t go down this path if there were plans to move in a different direction and having executives familiar with NonStop now spread throughout HPE upper management is refreshing news to all who belong to the NonStop community.

Remember Sean Mansubi? Mansubi preceded Andy Bergholz as head of NonStop R&D and is VP, R&D - Converged Platform Software & Infrastructure at HPE. Like Lewis, he has considerable knowledge of all things NonStop and even as his current product line responsibilities will fit nicely with Lewis’s SDCG plans, I can’t help wondering whether at some point (particularly with vNonStop on the horizon), we will hear more about NonStop making a contribution in a world that is converging.

Of course, while on the topic of NonStop knowledge permeating the ranks of NonStop, it would be remiss of me to leave out references to Randy Meyer who is now Vice President & General Manager, Mission Critical Systems, HPE. For those in the NonStop community unfamiliar with conventions and protocols at HPE, whenever you run across an executive who has in his title General Manager then you have met an individual who has direct Profit and Loss (P&L) responsibilities. Meyer now looks after the complete product portfolio for all mission critical systems and with his background deeply anchored in NonStop, the success NonStop is enjoying just has to be an ongoing source of pride for Meyer, I would have to think!

I am sure there are other former NonStop managers now in executive positions within HPE and I would not be surprised to hear from them following this post. But that in itself is part of the story – just like me many of them wouldn’t let an hour go by without checking select blogs and according to the stats I review, it’s clear that many of my readers just happen to be located in Palo Alto. We no longer resort to post-it notes, although I still have plenty of them in my desk drawers. Transformation to a hybrid infrastructure, software-defined everything, including clouds, converged platform software and so forth all reflect the changes happening deep inside IT (and yes, not just for HPE has change become the norm)!

While there’s no publicity as yet about the presence of NonStop I am of the opinion that should the current efforts to integrate a virtual NonStop into HPE’s own IT organization prove successful, then it will be hard to keep that information from seeing the light of day in the marketplace. And should that likely event happen any time soon then yes, look to the blogs for the first news to break as for sure, as a blogger, I wouldn’t miss such an opportunity to post about it the instant I see announcements being made – post-it notes be damned!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Time to reach for the big guns – fighting for NonStop has begun!

Parking next to an impressive infantry field piece brought up images of big guns and when you consider all that’s surrounding HPE and yes, even NonStop are we seeing the emergence of a big gun in the mission critical transaction processing marketplace?

It was hard to ignore the potential metaphor when we first saw the transporter with a self-propelled artillery piece, albeit on the smaller side I have to admit. Nevertheless, the damage it could unleash at any point was unquestionable and just sitting alongside it was cause for something other than casual conversation – no, the driver of the transporter was not prepared to discuss what it was, where it had come from or talk about where it was headed. On the other hand, the color scheme wasn’t very desert friendly and as it was headed to the West Coast, we assumed it was off to the Far East.

Experiencing life on the open road is something Margo and I have come to enjoy immensely and there are few NonStop events we cannot reach with our mobile command center. We have found it useful in attracting customers and vendors alike to drop on by for a visit and no matter the adult beverage of preference, there will always be very little resistance on our part to shaking a martini for anyone who goes out of their way to spend time with us. Retirement? Well, heck no! Bizcations? Well, heck yes – while Margo collects shells by the seashore I have the perfect office set up and I am happiest when looking out across an unfamiliar landscape.

Naturally, the symbolism didn’t escape me as I drove right up alongside this big gun. While I am sure there will be those in the NonStop community that point out to me that this really isn’t a big gun. Useful as it would be in a battle, there are a lot bigger guns at the ready for generals in need of something more forceful. However, when it comes to technology in general, and IT specifically, I am coming to the opinion that HPE couldn’t have called up a bigger gun than Intel nor could they have produced better munitions for the fight than what we see today with NonStop X.

Intel is the big gun in the chip business. For a while, IBM was really hyping the Power 8 chip in the lead up to the introduction of new Power Systems (as well as the mainframe), but now all the talk is about the upcoming Power 9 chips. And for good reason; while the Power 8 looked good on paper, there were some pretty dreadful “unintended consequences”, according to my contacts deep within IBM. And yes, the report of May 11, 2014, by the team at financial analyst company, Motley Fool, didn’t hold back on its punches in any fashion. Yes, power at a price isn’t always the desired outcome major vendors are looking for.

“Intel's success has never just been due to performance leadership; a 6-core POWER 8 about matches a 15-core Intel Xeon, and the 12-core variant of the POWER 8 would utterly embarrass it in performance. The problem for IBM is that the equation for data-center dominance isn't simply about performance, but is instead about performance per watt per dollar. While it's too soon to get a read on the performance per watt of the IBM POWER 8 (although it's likely that this kind of performance doesn't come cheaply), the real problem that is likely to plague it is the cost.” And this is exactly what has transpired over the past two years – IBM couldn’t manufacture, or indeed sell, on the scale of Intel.

“Intel's Xeon E7 (Ivy Bridge-EX) is a 4.31 billion-transistor machine weighing in at 541 square millimeters built on a quite mature 22-nanometer FinFET process in factories that have to date pumped out hundreds of millions of 22-nanometer FinFET processors. While the volumes on this part are low, and while yields on this chip are almost assuredly trickier than a 1.4 billion-transistor Haswell notebook CPU, they are probably better than the IBM POWER 8's at this stage of the game,” concludes Fool analyst, Ashraf Eassa.

And yes, remember all the messages from HPE NonStop product management – we are simply following the Intel roadmap and, without elaborating further, could we see NonStop running on Broadwell? “This is Intel speak for their new
14 nanometer die shrink of its Haswell microarchitecture. It is a ‘tick’ in Intel's tick-tock principle as the next step in semiconductor fabrication,” so Wikipedia tells me. As of this post, NonStop X is based on Xeon E5-2600v2 series processors so, even as “Some of the processors based on the Broadwell microarchitecture are marketed as ‘5th-generation Core’ i3, i5 and i7 processors,” the images of the big guns persist! Well, IBM is still playing around with 22-nanometer FinFET processors – get the picture? That’s a big gun alright, but perhaps guns, with bigger bores, aren’t what is required in this gunfight.

There is a reason why NonStop is riding the Intel roadmap and there is a reason too for the naming convention HPE chose for NonStop – ever wondered what all those numbers and letters meant? A NonStop X NS7 X1 suggests one of the numbers refers to the generation with all indications supporting that the X1 simply means the first go-around of the Xeon chip. Doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that in time we will see X2, X3, X4 and so on – but don’t take my word on that. Check this out with your friendly NonStop product manager.

Suffice to say, as virtualization takes hold within NonStop development and supports regular, commercial off-the-shelf hardware, including Proliant as well as CloudLine as best as I can tell, perhaps these Xn suffixes tell us another story. Or could it be the occurrence of the first X telling us an even bigger story – will NonStop i and NonStop X be joined by a third line comprising servers taken straight from the stripped-down x86 server vaults and packaged in ways to meet customer needs (of the time)? Could we see something like NonStop O (for open) become the follow-on to NonStop i and NonStop X – it’s fun to speculate like this, even as it’s pretty harmless. However, just a few years ago when NonStop looked to be anything but strategic to HPE, such musings would have not been possible.

Turns out the big guns for HPE have nothing to do with size or indeed performance. Rather, the big guns are those that the users can aim directly at legacy and traditional applications – with the price points established for NonStop X there really isn’t a mission critical application that wouldn’t benefit from running atop a fault tolerant NonStop system. And maybe, just maybe, the NonStop community we are all part of today isn’t alone in its understanding of just how important this is to users everywhere. Did you all see the news late Friday, July 29, 2016?

According to one financial publication, HPE could go the way of Dell and become privatized.  No real surprises here for many HPE watchers who not only raised an eyebrow when HPE split out HPES with the intent to combine with CSC (on an equal basis) but openly discussed the possibility of further sales. I think by now we have all read stories of HPE looking for buyers for much of its software businesses – Autonomy, Mercury, Veridata, etc.  However, even as this Friday’s news reports raised the level of noise,
pushing the stock price of HPE higher, with one report suggesting that according to Barrons “multiple private equity buyers were kicking the tires … considering a possible buyout.” 

I am not quite ready to jump on that bandwagon. I will hold any further comment about this for a later post as I have to believe that there will be further reports in the coming weeks. But HPE provides value and HPE has brought NonStop into the very heart of its operations, and there are those who see considerable value in HPE as it continues to support the Intel x86 architecture across its product portfolio. 

On the other hand, no private equity firm appears to be looking at IBM and I suspect that too is a story unto itself. No value to be unearthed over there; move along! While it’s true IBM has sold off practically everything of value and would have sold off the Mainframe if it had been able to find anyone that was interested. IBM’s strategic initiatives in clouds and cognitive processing are moving very slowly and in some aspects, have begun to falter, losing ground to the competition – with all of its guns firing in support of clouds, it only grew its clouds business 30% in the latest quarter whereas Microsoft grew its cloud business by 150%!

It’s always important to be able to lay your hands on the big guns as and when you need them - yes, there’s nothing more comforting than knowing you brought the biggest gun to the fight. However, how we measure today’s big guns is vastly different from what was considered important just a decade ago. Today, it’s all about following standards, being open, tapping vast pools of talented staff and yes, let’s not forget, it’s also about price. And with adoption of the x86 architecture I believe HPE has pulled out the biggest gun of all and no matter what features come with Power 9 the market is beginning to understand IBM’s Power will only ever be second to Intel – the numbers simply speak for themselves.

Symbolism still has its place and watching the big gun on the trailer continue on its way, the symbolic nature of it heading towards the west coast where innovation and technology thrive – NonStop may not yet be the biggest gun within HPE but it has become a lot more visible as the big gun in fault tolerant mission critical transaction processing. In doing so, clearly the prospects of HPE are “looking up” as a result. Whether it becomes an extended family of NonStop i, NonStop X, NonStop O or whatever – the fact remains; NonStop is on a roll and taking aim squarely at blasting away at the days of being typecast as proprietary, closed and “too expensive for us!”    

Sunday, July 24, 2016

I am in your mirrors and am about to pass …

Could it be, after so many years, that NonStop systems are catching the venerable mainframe? Is it even conceivable that NonStop offers a better technology solution than its long time arch-rival? Possible? Well perhaps yes … the gap between the two is definitely being bridged!

I was only recently writing to my clients about the work being done on our track Corvette. After nearly a two year hiatus we hope to have the C5 Z06 track ready by the end of the month, with perhaps an outing or two in the fall,  just as driving in winter is out of the question in Colorado so too is driving in the heat of summer. The ‘Vette looks terrific even after all these years – thirteen years old but only a little over 20,000 miles on the odometer even if almost a third of those were spent on the track as well as in and around the pits and paddocks you find at every race track. Yes, former head of NonStop development, Hal Massey, has a lot to answer for (as does Mike Plum, also formerly of NonStop development) for having steered Margo and I down this path.

But it’s not really what the eye first glimpses – a shiny red paint and a nice leather interior – that is the important consideration. It most definitely is all about the state of the engineering that counts for almost everything. There are key components and then literally a raft of proprietary infrastructure that ensures a track car circulates quickly and safely around any racing track. I have written of this for the NonStop community on many occasions and I never tire from drawing comparisons between cars and computers, as the language and imagery is so similar.

So much is standardized on cars today and yes, so much is standardized on computers and for the NonStop community, the changes of the past couple of years couldn’t have come at a more opportune time – the industry is changing and while others are beginning to struggle, the roadmap for NonStop is now liberally sprinkled with industry standard conforming hardware and software that it is putting distance between itself and its competitors.

In road racing there a very important saying, “If I am in your mirrors, then I am faster than you!” In a sense, if you can see me behind you and a short time ago, you had nothing but clear track, then the saying makes a whole lot of sense and so it is that drivers at every level of experience are instructed on track protocols and respect the saying. Well, the analogy holds true for NonStop – following years of clear sailing, so as to speak, NonStop is now clearly in everyone’s rear view mirror. And, in many cases, NonStop is already executing a passing maneuver.

Over the past couple of weeks I have been looking into the overall performance of IBM. In particular, I have been looking at both IBM mainframes and IBM Power Systems. The latter is how IBM now sells it’s former AS/400 – System i servers, where IBM Power Systems have the ability to run any or all of OS/400, AIX and even GNU Linux. No longer separate System i or System p, today there is just a single system and just like their bigger brother, you configure LPARs (Logical Partitions) in order to run a required OS and you no longer have the option to run real. It’s all virtual today – just as we are watching the demise of manual transmissions it would seem that automatics dominate today and running virtually is akin to running an automatic. Don’t you worry yourselves about the specifics of matching requirements with power on hand!

Will IBM add support for zOS in Power Systems? In other words, will the Mainframe become just another LPAR on a Power System? This is a very loaded question as boundaries get crossed and the outcome is not related either to technology or even business as much as it is related to culture – the “mainframe crowd” would simply choke if they had to co-reside with the other crowd – the System i and the System p! However, it may happen. And it is against this background that the moves by HPE for NonStop to bring to market virtual NonStop (vNonStop) running on commercial, off-the-shelf x86 hardware, essentially “completes the circle.” Windows, Linux and NonStop will be running on exactly the same inexpensive hardware – take your pick. And it will run “automatically” atop a virtual machine.

But how long will IBM and the mainframe remain competition for NonStop? If you had an opportunity to read the many analyst reports following the latest quarterly results from IBM, you have to start wondering just how viable the mainframe will remain? I know my colleagues and good friends working with mainframes will likely choke when they read this but I am still struggling to comprehend why IBM didn’t embrace blades as did their other development teams and why is it sticking with Power? So much was expected from the latest Power 8 chips that when they started shipping (with support for mainframes), their performance wasn’t anything stellar and talk quickly reverted to discussions about the next chip, the Power 9.

Back to the latest quarterly results from IBM and to a couple of highlights. “Revenue for the quarter came in at $20.24 billion against the comparable year-ago figure of $20.81 billion. IBM's second quarter results mark the company's 17th straight quarter decline.” And then there is “Sales in the systems segment, which includes mainframes and the operating software that helps run them, declined 23.2 percent to $2 billion.” Almost immediately, questions began to be raised as to whether IBM was going to sell off the mainframe business. After all, IBM has sold off almost everything else from communications and networking to PCs and servers.

“IBM would probably sell the mainframe business if it could, but I'm not convinced that anyone wants to buy it. Mainframes may have more value as a continuing source of cash than what IBM could realize in an outright purchase.” As for that cash, just how many mainframe users know just how much cash is going back to IBM with each sale of a mainframe? “IBM's gross margins declined as well in all of its divisions, with the exception of its Systems division, where the gross margin remained stable at 56.5%.” That’s one big reason as to why IBM isn’t as upset as it otherwise might have been in not being able to find a buyer for the mainframe. No, customers are going to be led by the nose till the very end. Perhaps the rose in those rose-colored glasses worn by IBM mainframe salesman are simply a reflection of the very bloodshot eyes of increasingly enraged customers.

It’s absolutely time for every member of the NonStop community to push back on the mainframe protagonists – their arguments are wearing extremely thin. The above quotes were drawn mostly from a July 20, 2016, article by Mark Hibben and published in the electronic publication, Seeking Alpha. However, in that article was a chart produced by IDC that every member of the NonStop community should be aware of that is IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Server Tracker, June 2016:

The more I look at the data in this chart, the more I have come to appreciate the predicament IBM finds itself in today. Now, there are parties within IBM that point to how the new z13 gained another 13 new customers in the quarter bringing to 70 the number of new customers that the z13 has generated – a stat that can be found in posts to the LinkedIn group, Mainframe Experts Network. But if I happened to be working at IBM, I would be appalled at these figures based on previous history. What’s missing is just how many customers have left System z in the same period. And just how many of these new customers happen to be international subsidiaries of existing users? Bottom line, with less than 10% of the server “systems,” this is an embarrassing figure for IBM and one every CIOs would fancy flashing before their boards of directors. Coupled with almost a 33% decline, year over year, embarrassment may be the least of these CIOs concerns – properly managing risk comes to mind.

And yet the myths about the invulnerability of the mainframe persist. The mainframe protagonists are proving to be a hardy lot to shake but here’s the good news. Once viewed as being on the endangered species list, following the support for the Intel x86 architecture, NonStop systems have made it back onto the strategic list of one major bank and I am expecting more to follow in the near time and be something that is openly discussed by HPE management at this year’s NonStop Technical Boot Camp. No, NonStop is going to continue to thrive as a system and as a platform. It’s about time CIOs reliant on the performance of their mainframes to check their mirrors – NonStop is approaching and yes, with the commitment to the Intel x86 architecture, it is catching the mainframe and as we all know when it comes to market share, overall performance and yes, that all-important price consideration, it is now squarely in your mirrors!  

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Yes, once again, I ask – are our wishes truly important?

Once again, I am writing a preview of what will follow next February as my update to My Three Wishes for NonStop will be posted. Like my previous preview, I am keeping a few items close to my chest … 

Over the past two week I have been on the road and for nearly all of that time the heavens have opened up and it’s been a hard rain for more days that I care to recall. Driving was erratic at times even as setting up camp proved challenging – the drive into the RV facility on North Carolina’s Outer Banks happened just 30 minutes after a tremendous deluge that left the facility flooded. But the opportunity to discuss business with numerous folks made it worthwhile and overall it all added to a growing impression that the software industry is heading for tough times and that, without a few more concessions coming from major hardware vendors, our future choices may be greatly reduced even as users may be tempted to return to writing critical middleware and tools themselves.

Driving all of this is the simple fact that there’s just very little money heading towards traditional software vendors. Well, almost all software vendors. Those providing solutions remain optimistic of course as there is a direct line between the business problems they address and their own ability to charge accordingly. There continues to be significant discrepancies between the many solutions on offer but the actual price paid for any given solution ultimately rests with the users themselves – they can walk from deals and consider alternatives. However, when it comes to middleware and tools there are usually only one or two choices and for the NonStop community this is particularly true.

It’s unfortunate that with the rightsizing of NonStop system prices that has led to NonStop being priced as competitively as it is now – on par with almost every other server cluster offering and streets ahead of equivalent mainframe offerings – a new pricing expectation is being set for middleware and tools. And yet, we expect our preferred middleware and tools vendor to accelerate the level of investment in their products to cater for changing hardware architecture. Throw into this mix the availability of NonStop as Software, capable of running virtually, and the expectations of users are beginning to step beyond the lines of reasonability. HPE NonStop expects these vendors to remain part of the NonStop ecosystem but I am not sure how many NonStop vendors will be motivated to do so and this may be to the detriment of everyone in the NonStop community.

Every three years I update my three wishes for NonStop. It all started back on February 12, 2008, in the post,
"My Wish" for NS Blades. Since then I have published successive Wishes for NonStop posts in 2011, 2014 and now 2017 is fast approaching when I will once again be publishing my next three Wishes for NonStop. However, given how quickly events can turn on a dime, with my post of July 19, 2013, Are our wishes still important? I set the scene in terms of what to expect next and this year, I am continuing that pattern. The post of 2017 may be fast approaching but it may be useful if I provided you with a sneak preview about what is yet to be posted. And yes, there is lots to discuss.

But here’s the catch. Are making three wishes for NonStop still relevant today? I have asked the same question every time and each time, the responses have been positive. It would seem that we all have our private list of Wishes for NonStop and consider them important. On the other hand, can we say NonStop has now caught up with the industry to where we are all prepared to go with the flow? Is same-o, same-o, become acceptable and in fact, become the new norm? Is NonStop differentiation even relevant in 2016?

My first response is one of gratitude that HPE stuck with NonStop where today the investments HPE is making, in NonStop systems, are hard to ignore. Who could have imagined that NonStop would be where it is today, on the verge of being available pretty much any way we want it – running on HPE hardware, on commercial off-the-shelf hardware and potentially, not just in private clouds but possibly in public clouds underpinning a selection of services including database. Making three wishes for NonStop is still relevant but given how much is changing of late, I will leave it till that post of February 2017 what I think my next three wishes should be.

In the meantime, and as a precursor to what may follow, when I look at how best to characterize the NonStop ecosystem as it exists today, then there are three items that stand out – transparency, cooperation and engagement. These are very important topics for the NonStop community today given all we are hearing from HPE. Change upon change upon change – the reshaping of an industry stalwart to better address the conditions of the day. Not a cliché, but reality. It’s so easy for us these days to drift back to memories of former times and wish for their return. But IT is a thriving, multi-faceted industry that only knows progress. IT is like a powerful car that only has forward gears.

Transparency? Overriding every discussion I have had with my clients of late is the urgency for greater transparency with respect to their dialogue with HPE and I have to believe the same holds true for NonStop users. C’mon, HPE – we can’t just be forced to read the Wall Street Journal to find out what HPE is up to – a briefing call on the day (or yes, a little in advance) would be great. Having said this, I do have to say I admire the steps that HPE NonStop Product Management have taken of late to be more transparent with the vendor community and I want to see this develop further – quarterly calls, if it’s possible! And yes, I know all about the SEC rules – but as they say so often in the movies and on television these days, “read us in!” And when it comes to transparency, how about letting us all know just how many NonStop customers exist today and just how many NonStop systems are deployed.

Cooperation? Quite simply, there is so much to do and HPE R&D cannot do it all. Numerous steps have been taken already with select partners and again, this is good news. But develop a program that is more comprehensive and don’t push back each time with observations that well, yes we have something already in the works. Don’t do that – it just doesn’t win you any friends and quite frankly you don’t have the breadth any longer to be competitive on every front. Let the specialists who are prepared to invest their own dime in bringing a tool, utility or major feature to market, take the lead. It’s not that big a concession to make but cooperation will buy HPE NonStop an awful lot of good friends in many of the right places.

Engagement? The tricky element! You may already ask whether this has been covered with transparency and cooperation but I want to call it out as its own challenge. Let’s start with partner programs. For the most part, the NonStop vendor community doesn’t want to be lumped into a generic all-encompassing partner program. I know, I have been there! More than once! The needs of the NonStop vendor community vary significantly from those of your typical Unix or Linux or even Windows development shop. For starters, the marketplace for NonStop is finite and tightly focused – we don’t need to be given access to a couple of PCs or a Linux server. The Advanced technology Center (ATC) has been a godsend to many NonStop vendors – explore ways to broaden its engagement with the NonStop vendor community. For free! The NonStop Technical Boot Camp has been a surprise windfall for all involved – let’s keep it up and somehow manage to find resources to export it to EMEA and AP-J.

There is also one more thing – related, but more on the periphery of everyone’s radar screens. The freelancer! The time of having job security, working for a large organization, is long gone – those very same large organizations have seen to that. I don’t know of any other IT segment where the skills lie with as many freelancers as exists today across the NonStop community. Freelancers should not be ignored even as they don’t have the backing of a large corporation but having said that, they are more likely to be better equipped and motivated. It’s a huge resource around the planet that just needs greater recognition. 

Returning to my opening comments; HPE does expect the NonStop vendor community to remain part of the NonStop ecosystem. It’s very important for HPE and indeed, the expectation is that new vendors will be found and brought into the NonStop fold. But it’s a two way street with many one-way side streets leading NonStop vendors away from the main thoroughfare. Keeping everyone engaged is not a nice-to-have but rather the biggest imperative of all for HPE NonStop. The NonStop vendor community is heading for tough times and truly needs concessions from HPE. Yes, we would all benefit from new solutions for NonStop even as we would all benefit from making it even easier to port what we like to NonStop. But we absolutely must find the right way to sustain a thriving software industry that will remain focused on NonStop!

If you were at all curious about what my first three Wishes for NonStop were back in 2008, while the words were a little different they called for industry standard blades capable of running not just NonStop but Linux, Unix and even Windows; they called out the need to embrace virtualization and the benefits that would likely come if we could programmatically provision NonStop. If you want to read these three previous posts, then follow the link, Wishes that is listed under Labels. There is also now a label for Wishes – Preview where you will find this post included as well. 

But I have to admit, before wrapping up this post, that in the years since 2008, HPE NonStop has taken incredible strides to bring NonStop into the mainstream and with the new NonStop X family has succeeded in a manner that has taken me by surprise. There’s a saying that you need to be careful about making wishes in case they come true, but I have to admit, I wish big! So, look for the post of February 2017 to read more about my wishes for where I would like to see NonStop head over the course of the next three years.