Monday, February 13, 2017

Three new wishes for NonStop that address the next three years!

Since 2008, every third year I have posted "my three wishes for NonStop." It’s now 2017 – what can we expect to read in this latest post and why is it important for the NonStop community? 

When an opportunity presented itself to add yet another vanity plate, it seemed like a good time to add PYALLA3 to the list and to mount it on the Mini. Although, being 3, there was some thought given to mounting it on the BMW, given its engine had only three cylinders, but after further consideration Margo and I decided that this may be a little too cryptic. On the other hand, Mini notwithstanding, three has become a significant number when it comes to the posts to this NonStop community blog – every three years I have written about the three wishes I have for NonStop and here we are, three more years have passed by since my last update.

To read all of the predictions I have made in the past, check out the label to the right of this post, Wishes, for more of what I had to say through the years as there are patterns that developed over time. Most important, the push for standardization, open software and yes virtualization. It all started back in February 2008, and even then I was lobbying for virtualization and for NonStop to be able to run as well on virtual machines as it did on physical systems. If you have as yet not read the article just published in the Jan – Feb, 2017, issue of the Connection (and you are a Connect community member) you may want to check it out as it covers much of this earlier material: Virtual World beckons - vNonStop is the only ticket we need!

For the better part of a year I have been fortunate enough to have been invited to a number of Regional User Group (RUG) events to give my speculative take on where NonStop is headed. For some time there has been uncertainty about the future of NonStop. There were other CIOs who considered NonStop to be little more than special-purpose computers while still others began to view NonStop as a legacy platform. However, the good news for the NonStop community is that NonStop development didn’t buy into any of those arguments and in no time at all, so it seemed, have turned NonStop on its head.

Today we see the NonStop X family of physical systems shipping to customers with vNonStop undergoing early testing offering support of NonStop on virtual machines. And all thanks to the work done by NonStop development in support of the Intel x86 architecture together with support of industry standard InfiniBand. We now see a revitalized NonStop as modern as any system and it has transformed the way these CIOs look at NonStop – there’s been so much chaos as airlines have been grounded because of computer glitches even as stock exchanges have experienced their own outages as well (see A short history of stock market glitches published last year by CNBC) that a truly fault tolerant offering is once again under consideration by enterprises that simply have little patience for outages of any kind.

Furthermore, we now see HPE IT deploying NonStop X and working towards deploying vNonStop with NS SQL/MX accessible via DataBase-as-a-Service (DBaaS). And this is great news for the NonStop community and we all are watching at every RUG event where HPE updates the NonStop roadmap for more news on how this project is progressing. So what next then for NonStop – if many of the above wishes are working
their way into what NonStop development is pursuing these days is there more dramatic news awaiting the NonStop community? Will NonStop make a return to the airline marketplace or to stock exchanges? Perhaps healthcare? And will NonStop find even greater success in its traditional markets of finance and telecommunications?

While there may be few within HPE willing to speak up about the return of NonStop to all of these markets, I am willing to bet that at some point NonStop may indeed play a part in the future of all solutions qualified as mission critical. But then what can we reasonably believe lies ahead for NonStop over the course of the next three years? It was a little over a year ago that I posted a preview of what might underpin my next three wishes. In the July 19, 2016
Yes, once again, I ask – are our wishes truly important? I broached the topic of my next three wishes for NonStop however I only posted about what I was wishing for in very general terms:

Transparency? 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 … how about letting us all know just how many NonStop customers exist today and just how many NonStop systems are deployed.

Cooperation? Surely it is getting much better! There is so much to do and HPE R&D cannot do it all … 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.

Engagement? 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. So, where do we go from here? Have we seen enough about NonStop that we know the path it is taking? Is the NonStop product roadmap telling the full story?

Well what can I say – I want and indeed expect a lot more! And now it is time for a little “tough love” as there is a lot more to NonStop than just the path being taken by NonStop development. All of the stakeholders within the NonStop community have parts to play and as there are three main stakeholders – NonStop users, NonStop vendors and yes, HPE NonStop – all need to participate to ensure the future I see for NonStop coming to fruition over the next three years.

My first wish then is for the NonStop user to buy more NonStop systems – migrate to NonStop X and begin evaluating the potential to capitalize on vNonStop. However, in buying more NonStop systems, it will become very important to keep demanding more from HPE – as we all know it is the voice of the NonStop user community that still motivates NonStop development to pursue new initiatives. You want to run a vNonStop on an edge product and have real time analytics support – then make your demands known. Never for one moment assume that NonStop will not so something and turn to an alternative before giving NonStop development a chance to respond. It’s a new day for NonStop development but they need to hear your voice. So yes, it all begins with the NonStop user community buying more NonStop systems.

My second wish is for NonStop vendors to lift their game. Many of them look like the abandoned puppies we all see on late night television that are looking for new homes – beaten so many times that they can barely lift their heads. Yes, it’s been a tough decade for NonStop vendors but all vendors need to heed NonStop development’s aggressive plans as spelt out in their roadmap for NonStop. Vendors have taken a beating but that is no excuse not to have clearly articulated roadmaps for all their products!

My third wish focuses on NonStop development. Educate! Train! Mentor! Promote! There is a lot that NonStop users and vendors can do but ultimately all stakeholder will benefit from a more vocal NonStop development! We all appreciate the issues – understaffed, underfunded, underappreciated. But get after industry analysts and get after the press – there is a terrific story developing around NonStop and all of IT needs to know that they don’t have to put up with failure. Affordable, industry-standard, fault tolerant computers have returned – and yes, with a vengeance.

Tough love? Only so far as to say we have so much to do as a community if we really want to see NonStop shine. And after all these years I cannot hold back my enthusiasm for NonStop as markets are frustrated by outages with poor reliability and concerns about integrity are fueling many discussions among CIOs – do they really understand the story of NonStop today? And yes, the messages of transparency, cooperation and engagement remain as pertinent today as they were a year and a half ago; in 2020, when I write my next three wishes for NonStop, all I want to see topping the list of priorities is how big a hotel we will need to hold the NonStop Technical Boot Camp of that year.

Finally, let’s just take one last look at the barriers still standing in the way of success for NonStop. Oftentimes conversations turn to who is teaching the next generation of NonStop system managers and programmers. Well, guess what; that’s not where NonStop is headed! It’s a message that is often lost among the NonStop stakeholders. Where NonStop is heading is becoming a lot clearer; you won’t need to know anything at all about NonStop. Your favorite tools, frameworks, languages and utilities will all simply run on NonStop – for the most part you won’t even know NonStop exists. All you will know is that, when you ask IT to provision resources and you checked the box “24 x 7,” your application will simply run fault tolerant.

Cool? Yes – and it’s bringing NonStop to the world and not the other way around. It will not be dependent on dragging the world to NonStop! Here’s to the prosperity that will come for all NonStop stakeholders over the course of the next three years and I look forward to seeing as many of you as I can as I return to the RUG circuit with a renewed sense of enthusiasm. We may all have been badly beaten up over the past decade but there’s still a lot of fight left in this puppy!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

NonStop doesn’t age; NonStop simply keeps on processing …

Travels to Southern California with plenty of time to talk about NonStop made us more aware of just how big a marketing task HPE faces with NonStop and how, just perhaps, we all need to contribute to make the presence of NonStop more widely known!

The years have been kind to Margo and me and as much as we remind ourselves that yes, we are aging there’s that other side that says, “Na; you’re still young!” Leaving the cold and snow well and truly behind us we drove from Boulder, Colorado, to sunny Malibu, California. And yes, we had lunches at Dukes and Ocean Prime, drinks at Nobu, coffees at Starbucks and dinners at Brophy Brothers in Ventura and Mastro’s new digs surfside at Malibu. Business had taken us to Century City the first day in California but under these bright blue skies, Margo celebrated her birthday with good friends, the Kennys, whom we first met in Simi Valley many years ago.

Thoughts of aging are never far from our minds of late and it is no surprise to read that during the roadtrip between Boulder and Malibu the conversation returned time and time again to NonStop. Recalling the early days in NonStop’s history when we both worked for Tandem Computers it’s hard not to see the past through rose-tinted glasses and to recall the many friendships we formed most of which we continue to cherish even now. And yet, coming to NonStop now for the first time is so much easier to do than at any other time in the past. For many new users, looking at a console (oftentimes running application monitoring and management software from third parties) it’s hard to see anything that lets you know that behind the facades of the rows of servers happily blinking away, there lays a fully operational NonStop system. Or two!

With shipments of NonStop X beginning to gain momentum after being on the market for more than a year now, talk among the NonStop community is turning to what happens next. Where is this NonStop journey going to take us. With each passing year it’s another candle on the cake as another trip around the sun is completed and NonStop simply isn’t aging. The market for true fault tolerant systems continues to hold firm. Good enough still isn’t good enough when it comes to running mission critical workloads and the more we read about outages of systems vital to countries infrastructure, as we all have seen concerning the operational systems of many of the airlines, the more we come to appreciate the NonStop systems we have. No, the market for fault tolerant systems isn’t lessening any time soon.

NonStop development has not only signaled a future for NonStop by calling it the best software platform on the planet even as HPE considers NonStop a core software asset, there is still a lot of work to be done to convince enterprises to take NonStop seriously. And that’s a shame even as it’s a wakeup call to everyone at HPE that a lot more has to be done to get the message out into the marketplace. It’s simply not good enough to leave the entire task of promoting NonStop to just a handful of NonStop product managers and a few key development managers. As much as we all like listening to these folks, the bigger HPE has to step up its investment. Several years ago I was part of the blogging community that HPE supported at HPE Discover events, but for the last couple of years I was politely told that focus on mission critical systems and in particular on NonStop was too narrow a market for HPE to continue supporting me as part of the blogging community. As of 2016 HPE Discover – here in Las Vegas and again, in London – there is no support of NonStop marketing by HPE and this simply isn’t good enough. Furthermore, it’s somewhat insulting to the larger Global 1000 companies heavily invested in NonStop systems to see such little caring by HPE at their big tent shows.

Fortunately, at the 2016 HPE Discover event in Las Vegas, Home Depot came under the spotlight during HPE CEO Meg Whitman’s keynote presentation where she did make reference to Home Depot being a NonStop (and Aruba) customer. In fact, in a conference where the exhibition hall wasn’t divided into areas by system and where finding any presence of NonStop was a challenge, Whitman’s reference to NonStop was among the only server references made during any of the keynote presentations. The other members of the blogging community, those who knew me from past events? Well they came up to me for more information about NonStop and wanted to know where they could go on the exhibition floor to talk to members of the HPE NonStop team. Yes, HPE has got to do a lot better at marketing NonStop even at events where every single item is metered carefully and with precision.

The message of NonStop isn’t old! In talking to members of the NonStop vendor community that have branched out into supporting product offerings on platforms apart from NonStop – Linux and Windows, mostly these days – the flakiness of many of the commodity x86 servers they encounter is startling, to say the least. Often times running on x86 servers that are a ten years old isn’t a ticket to reliable computing and the added support costs these NonStop vendors incur working with clients whose servers are so poorly maintained leaves them scratching their heads in amazement. If you missed reading the latest post WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE DATAEXPRESS PROVIDED AS AN INFRASTRUCTURE AS A SERVICE (IAAS)? to the DataExpress NEWS / BLOG, you may want to check it out as it includes some interesting commentary.

“DataExpress has a lot of experience with the poor reliability exhibited by off-the-shelf hardware.  The impact this has on DataExpress customers, running DataExpress Open Platform (DXOP) with hardware that has not been scaled to meet the ongoing growth of the file transfer demands, very quickly becomes all too obvious,” writes Billy Whittington, DataExpress CEO. “One customer drew our attention to such performance degradation and reported DXOP as failing numerous times. But as soon as they upgraded their ten year old hardware, DXOP performed like the super star we know it is!” And DataExpress isn’t alone in witnessing such a situation – I am hearing this from other clients as well. NonStop isn’t old even if it has been with us a very long time and it’s fault tolerant, supporting solutions that in some instances have a heritage dating back to the earliest Tandem Computers ever shipped.

When it comes to marketing commodity servers, HPE is passionate about its storage offerings, its communications (including Edge products) offerings and its high performance computing offerings but then you look at the financial results of these groups. While HPE doesn’t break its numbers down by product they still produce figures showing the performance of servers, storage, networking alongside of technical services. We are awaiting the results of HPE’s first quarter, 2017, that should be produced during the early days of next month but based on the full year’s results for 2016, servers remained flat overall for the twelve months and yet, NonStop experienced a second year of double digit growth. There’s little additional explanation required about which product line is producing bottom line results that are helping sustain all the server lines but wouldn’t it be nice to read more about just how pleased HPE is with the results coming from sales of NonStop systems?

NonStop not only simply keeps on processing – but it is keeping on producing. Positive financial results, that is! I continue to post articles and commentaries on a number of industry blogs but just one recent incident highlighted the challenges facing all vendors working with NonStop systems. My pro-NonStop feature article Time has proved good for HPE and NonStop; banks everywhere can run networks, 24×7!  recently published in BankingTech, took two months of lobbying and negotiation before it was published on December 8, 2016. “I know you are a big advocate of HPE NonStop, but isn’t this somewhat a promotion of the tech/service? It almost has a commercial aspect to it,” responded the publication’s editor to which I responded, “HPE has not received very much attention of late among FIs so I thought I could engage and indeed prompt FIs into a more lively discussion.” It was a little while later that I received the response, “Ah, ok. Let me review it again and I’ll let you know!”

The final response from Banking Tech?  “Taking into consideration your comments, we’ve come to a decision that the article is fine for publication – no changes required. To be honest, none of us have in-house expertise of HPE NonStop … So we’ll rely on your expert view on this!” Yes, NonStop keeps on processing as it keeps on producing results but it’s going to take a lot more work from all of us to keep promoting the message. HPE can’t be left to carry this burden alone – it will require active participation from all of us. Is it worth it? Can NonStop win the battles? I absolutely believe it can and it will be an interesting future post with the passage of one more year. Don’t put those candles away just yet and let’s all make a lot of noise as we make yet one more trip around the sun! 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Transformation – let’s look at how far NonStop has come!

A message about how necessity drives innovation isn’t anything new for the NonStop community and yet, it’s pleasing to hear all the same!

During a recent extended power outage I was left to figure out how best to entertain myself. Margo’s family commitments left me alone in the house and I was happily working away on storylines I had been considering for a while – some of which have now appeared in the latest issue of NonStop Insider as well as in posts made to LinkedIn – when unexpected darkness descended. When Margo and I built the house we had looked into integrating a sizeable UPS / Generator but nothing materialized. We do have a huge generator of course with our mobile company command center (our RV), but while we often recharge the batteries from the house, we hadn’t considered adding the necessary connections for the RV’s generator to power some of the house’s necessities.

It was a very cold day in Boulder, Colorado. Improvising out of necessity I was able to find a way to create a little heat in the family room by igniting several of the cooktop range’s burners using matches. And then there were a number of candles I found that I quickly deployed. But as I settled into waiting for the power to be restored, there was more than ample time to hold a candle while mixing a martini and as readers to this blog will recognize, the early evening martini in our household is not just a tradition but oftentimes a necessity following days when all that is on my computer is a blank screen.

It is the message of necessity that has been in my thoughts a lot of late. It is often out of necessity that so many of our actions arise, whether it’s a trip to the store for a forgotten item, mowing the lawns and cleaning the yard or simply to put on any extra layer of clothing as we step outside of our homes to brave the elements. And as I looked through the presentations I gave during the past twelve months I was struck by how well the HPE NonStop team have progressed numerous initiatives that indeed many view as necessary for NonStop to continue to have a presence in the data center. Mission Critical systems are an important part of the HPE products portfolio but have come under increased pressure to embrace a world in transition. Traditional IT is succumbing to cloud computing both private and public and to sustain a presence in this new world NonStop had to fundamentally change not just the hardware it depended upon, but the complete, highly integrated, software stack.

During 2016 NonStop Boot Camp event attendees would have heard how Randy Meyer, Vice President and General Manager, Mission Critical Systems at HPE, said that for his group, “Our strategy is to build specialized solutions for target customer segments.” Today, the coverage of customer needs extends to support for mission critical applications to high performance computing to small business and branch operations. The Mission Critical Systems group needs to support extreme scale where customization is required, carrier grade computing where standardization is paramount, and hybrid, versatile along with security, for enterprise’s core applications.

NonStop systems have never been general purpose systems and so continued support for the very specialized roles NonStop plays is completely understandable. However, the target customer segments where the focus of NonStop has been directed, want a lot more from NonStop as they embrace the key messages coming from HPE – transformation to hybrid infrastructures. As Randy’s new boss heading the Data Center Infrastructure Group (DCIS), Alain Anderoli, was quoted as having said (and as published in promotional material for the recent HPE Discover event in London), “A Hybrid IT requires deep competence and fluency in all areas of the industry – servers, storage, networking, IoT, data center infrastructure, and everything else. So, DCIG represents a pooling of talent that’s as broad as it is specialized.” NonStop remains specialized but this also means it needs to be competent in more than being just extremely highly available.

Whenever today HPE creates a presentation on NonStop the slides highlight the key attributes of Continuous Availability, Massive Scalability and Business Continuity. These are further defined as having automatic failover protection, an ability to scale to thousands of cores in a single system image that in the real world, can support applications delivering 15,000+ tps and then, when networked with other NonStop systems extend traditional continuous availability across multiple sites via support for active / active, active / passive and now, “sizzling hot takeover!” While this is a continuation of the NonStop story and highly respected by those users who have come to appreciate what NonStop provides them, NonStop development is obviously fine-tuning a number of its products to better accommodate the transformation to the new, hybrid world of IT, users are demanding.

Perhaps no bigger change has taken place than what is occurring with NS SQL/MX. Take a look at any recent NonStop PowerPoint presentation and you will see multiple slides devoted to NS SQL/MX. Two items on the NS SQL/MX product roadmap stand out that are important items for anyone looking to NS SQL/MX being a key part of the transformation to hybrid infrastructure. These two items are Database-as-a-Service (DBaaS) together with opening up access to NS SQL/MX for ANSI applications and in particular, those ANSI applications that today have been written to access databases such as Oracle.

No longer locked into expensive proprietary solutions, the NonStop development group is opening the door to access NS SQL/MX without massive amounts of application recoding and when it comes to running NS SQL/MX from within a private cloud, this should be beneficial to many more users that need not just access to SQL but to an SQL that is fault tolerant, supports a mixed workload that doesn’t necessitate any downtime whatsoever, maintenance tasks included, and can be served up from within a cloud as a service. Was this done out of necessity? Was the goal of the NonStop development team to make sure any transformation to a hybrid infrastructure didn’t leave behind NS SQL/MX?

Certainly these factors played a role but there was one more driver motivating NonStop development – HPE’s own IT group had been looking for ways to save money by rationalizing the number of databases they had deployed (more than 25,000 databases across all of HPE), and NS SQL/MX became an option. However, their requirement of NS SQL/MX not only drove the need for ANSI compatibility but also for multi-tenancy. How important is multi-tenancy for HPE IT (that will be reflected in support within NS SQL/MX for all NonStop customers) – it cuts down on hardware requirement even as it reduces license fees.

According to one source I referenced, TechTarget, “In cloud computing, the meaning of multi-tenancy architecture has broadened because of new service models that take advantage of virtualization and remote access. A software-as-a-service (SaaS) provider, for example, can run one instance of its application on one instance of a database and provide web access to multiple customers. In such a scenario, each tenant's data is isolated and remains invisible to other tenants.” When it comes to HPE IT, the practicality of NS SQ/MX multi-tenancy becomes obvious – embracing an implementation that has NS SQL/MX available on the basis of SaaS, where many HPE IT users will need “provisioning” to happen on demand, much of the complexity of doing so in terms of operational intervention, is significantly reduced.

Where HPE IT is headed is beyond the traditional converged infrastructure, which for the most part addresses a convergence at the hardware level, and onto hyperconverged computing. This is being propelled with HPE IT standardizing on x86 servers to populate their data center and with commodity hardware in a hyperconverged environment - the hardware takes a back seat to the software. And here’s the real story – the necessity, if you like, for HPE IT to consider NonStop – according to an explanation on the  web site, “The software layer is built with the understanding that hardware can — and ultimately will — fail. The software-based architecture is designed to anticipate and handle any hardware failure that takes place.”

It is this bidirectional, indeed almost symbiotic, necessity that has arisen from both the NonStop development team and HPE IT that is propelling NonStop into a more mainstream role for those users looking to embrace not just hybrids but converged and hyperconverged architectures. Fault tolerance has always been a given when NonStop ran on proprietary hardware but now NonStop supports fault tolerance in the world of clouds where the necessity to understand “that hardware can — and ultimately will — fail” is well recognized. That NonStop development has also invested in NS SQL/MX to make it more attractive as SaaS is highly commendable and worthy of attention being paid by all of us.  And that’s something competitors will not be able to hold a candle to NonStop systems as they are being delivered today! 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

An end to a boisterous year … ready for the fun times ahead?

In private exchanges to clients and in updates on other social media channels, I have talked about winter weather but strong winds always come before warmer temperatures arrive; 2017 is going to be no exception. NonStop will be hot!

It has been quite the end to a boisterous year. The winds blew strongly through the Front Ranges of the Rockies and within a day the snow that had been falling for the past day or so, leaving behind a substantial layer of the fluffy white stuff, had all but been blown clear into Nebraska. When you lie awake of a nighttime listening to winds pushing past 75 mph, with gusts topping 100 mph, it can be pretty scary at times as window panes begin to shift in their frames but then as morning breaks, and skies return to the blue that makes Colorful Colorado famous, there’s always a sense of well, we made it! 

Category 1 hurricanes are said to have sustained winds between 74 and 95 mph whereas Category 2 hurricanes have sustained winds between 96 mph and 110 mph and as the chart above depicts, on Christmas day we were hovering somewhere between a category 1 and 2 hurricane – something most of Colorado’s citizens tend to overlook. Yes, the intense low pressure system brought a hurricane down on us Christmas and then again, just two weeks later. Faced with such a rowdy weather pattern, noisy and unruly, there was little to tempt us to journey far from home.

It has been quite the end too to a rather tumultuous year for the NonStop community. I spent more time on the road than I care to do of late. As I pulled out all the business expenses and added up the cost there was only one month where Margo and I didn’t travel to a user or industry event. There were a couple of times where we made it to more than one event in the month and as much as we have a distinct distaste for it, I had to fly on two separate occasions, although given the need to travel to London to join the NonStop community at BITUG, there was little choice. 

The uptick in travel to Regional User Group events (and no, I cannot get my head around Tandem and NonStop being organized around Chapters as I still prefer to call our regional communities RUGs) is symptomatic of a more general trend that emerged in 2016 that brought out more of the NonStop community to hear the message of NonStop than ever before. And that is a very good thing to see firsthand. However, before getting into more detail as to why I believe is the greater interest in NonStop – a revival of sorts, right – it’s been good to see the growth in readership of publications I support. The digital media reach, following posts and commentaries I provide, is highly encouraging and is further reflection of just how important a role NonStop plays within IT. 

If you have been following the monthly page views for posts to the NonStop community blog, Real Time View (this digital media channel), you will have noticed a steady climb in page views over the past four months. Following average monthly page views for the summer somewhere near 2,500 it now site north of 10,000, with a peak of 11,000+ attained just before everyone left for vacation. Numbers like this had only been reached once before, back in late 2015, but it is interesting and indeed somewhat revealing to know that when I first wrote about NonStop X the numbers soared and now, that I am writing about vNonStop, the numbers are soaring once again. 

If you deliver news about NonStop that has wider appeal the numbers certainly are a reflection of a continued interest in the future of NonStop and that’s always encouraging for a writer / commentator such as myself. But page views of this NonStop community blog are only one side of the story. Readership in more traditional media vehicles, such as The Connection, appear to have picked up. Email responses to my column, Back for more …, have been positive as well and there’s always a comment or two posted to LinkedIn discussions whenever I touch on material included in the column. 

However, it has been the decision Margo and I made to participate in the launch of a new digital publication focused solely on NonStop – the new NonStop Insider eMagazine – that has us highly motivated to continue writing feature stories on NonStop. This time, it’s been about the independent NonStop vendor community that has been the focus of many of the stories published to date and this continues with the fourth issue including even more articles than in previous issues.

There are now more than 1,000 interested parties who have become subscribers to NonStop Insider and for a new publication, with only a handful of issues published, this is a really good accomplishment following such a short incubation period.
And you can read the latest issue, at:

However, this hasn’t been achieved solely based on our own singlemindedness to succeed with something new for the NonStop community. Margo and I happily tip our hats to the good folks at TCM Solutions up in Scotland. If it wasn’t for Tony and Daniel Craig, together with the support from Collin Yates, this eMagazine wouldn’t have gotten off the ground. It takes a lot of resources to build the web site, add each issue and them market to the community. But the most important aspect for me is that the NonStop community benefits from having multiple perspectives created for all things NonStop related. There cannot be too many publications focused on NonStop and at a time when traditional sources of information continue to fall behind the times (when it comes to news about NonStop) we see NonStop Insider filling a very important niche. So yes, subscribe and always remember that publication of articles is free. Whether you are a NonStop user or a NonStop vendor, send all material to

LinkedIn groups continue to prosper and there’s never a shortage of opinions when topics close to the heart of the NonStop community are broached. I’m always looking for unique ways to stimulate discussions and more than once I have been chastised for starting somewhat leading conversations. There are many LinkedIn followers of mine who are aware of my tactics but don’t for one moment think I am going to go easy in this respect for 2017. After all, it’s one of the best vehicles I know of to check whether the NonStop community still has a post and even now, several years after it was created, I really do enjoy kicking off something fresh to the LinkedIn group, Fools for NonStop 

None of what I am covering above could have taken place if there just wasn’t any news coming from HPE about NonStop. It is something that gets a tad overused in some circles but it’s hard to argue that NonStop is re-entering a new golden age for fault tolerant solutions. The sheer complexity of today’s IT as hybrids of just about everything are emerging and influencing the types of systems being deployed – hybrid is just another way to throw a blanket over transitions that leave traditional systems on the floor of the data center as new converged systems and cloud computing take hold.  The option to go with the new NonStop X family of x86 servers or to look further afield at running vNonStop are all exciting options NonStop development is rolling out in 2017.

There is likely still a lot of new material yet to be announced. I am often asked about the ongoing value proposition of NonStop. Having written a TCO paper on NonStop several years ago that threw considerable favorable light on NonStop in this regard, looking at what HPE is now doing for NonStop only makes TCO table look even more favorable for NonStop. It’s hard to argue with the savings that come from running NonStop on an x86 architecture. On the other hand, perhaps the biggest contribution of all to driving even more costs out of NonStop is yet to make an impression with CIOs. 

Look for big things to come in 2017 with regards to NonStop SQL/MX given the work development has undertaken to provide Oracle compatibility. I suspect this will catch many by surprise and perhaps no bigger user story on the success of NonStop SQL/MX replacing Oracle will be the story coming from HPE’s own IT where such migrations to NonStop SQL/MX have already begun.

There is a lull in the winds sweeping up the nearby Colorado Rockies. The front ranges have been stripped of snow that fell overnight. However, there is probably a lot more wind headed our way before there is any sign of spring making a return, and when it comes to NonStop I am expecting to see even more changes coming with many eyes focused on vNonStop whereby Nonstop runs in a virtual environment. It’s in Beta and it’s already being tested by at least one big solutions vendor. 

So, let’s not be too quiet about this. Let’s make as much noise as we possibly can. Let’s be boisterous in our enthusiasm as this is all exciting news for the NonStop community. Many years ago, following the launch of the Cyclone system, Jimmy Treybig suggested that in time, NonStop would be one of three – IBM, DEC and Tandem. Wouldn’t it be great if this now comes to be – Linux, Windows and NonStop. It’s all possible so stay tuned; the fun has only just begun!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Lights are shining and NonStop takes center stage!

With the first post of 2017, we can now look forward to what will likely transpire for the NonStop community – new products and features, all aimed to growing the market for NonStop, will further highlight just how much is changing for the better …

For those of us living in the northern hemisphere the winter solstice is now behind us and the days are getting longer. Even if it’s just with the addition of a few seconds of daylight this will gradually extend to where we are having extra minutes of sunshine with each new day. With sunshine comes warmth and perhaps that’s the most important ingredient of all. Unless you live in the Florida Keys and don’t care all that much! Or you reside in the southern hemisphere were at this time of year it’s all about cricket and sailing and eating fresh lobster while imbibing on chilled chardonnay. Do I miss those lazy summer days of my youth when I lived in Sydney? Oh yes …

Walking out from my home early one morning, just before Christmas, to see if I had missed the arrival of packages the night before, I took the photo above. While the photo centered on the footpath light immediately in front of me, if you look closely you will see three other lights, further along the path and around the driveway, barely visible. But they were there, and as I ventured down the path, they shined even brighter. I didn’t stay out too long, mind you, as the temperature was well below freezing and the snow that had fallen overnight made any forward progress difficult. Did I just say how I still missed my summer days in Sydney?

But lights are shining and it isn’t limited to the illumination of our footpaths and driveways at this time of year. With the holiday season well and truly over as we return to the routines of our business lives, 2016 now appears to have been a time when lights began to shine more brightly for the NonStop community. Once again, what may have looked like a dimly lit path forward has had the spotlights turned on and the illumination from these bright lights cannot be ignored – NonStop has returned to center stage! The NonStop community has proved adept at navigating the NonStop roadmaps through the years knowing when to invest and when to embrace a new architecture or technology even as they have elected to embrace alternatives, but at no time did they ever elect to tune-out the messages coming from HPE nor did they elect not to prepare plans for what HPE NonStop was about to deliver.

"By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail," attributed to Benjamin Franklin but more often these days expressed as "Failing to plan is planning to fail" is still pertinent to the place and time where we, the NonStop community, have come to – 2017. While others have paraphrased this quote, including Winston Churchill who was reputed to have remarked, “He who fails to plan is planning to fail" the point remains and as I have corresponded with a number of parties that continue to be active in the NonStop vendor community, it’s clear to me that having taken a deep breath following the 2016 NonStop Technical Boot Camp, it’s become very much a case of “back to the whiteboards” as plans and schedules are reworked based on the substance of product messages and demonstrations provided in the last quarter of 2016.

In my last post for 2016, Mall insights, and NonStop 2016 in review … I made reference to a couple of vendors to better support a number of my observations about last year. It wasn’t by any means a comprehensive list but more a case of a selection of highlights. However, if you missed reading that post (and I hope that after reading this new year’s post you will take a fresh look at it), you will have seen that I included references to OmniPayments and Striim as well as to the changing landscape for those providing outsourcing. The practice of outsourcing is coming under increased scrutiny; the year 2016 has represented a period of re-thinking as cloud operators put outsourcing practice under the microscope. The culprit here is cloud computing, particularly the industry that has arisen with the advent of public clouds. 

Amazon, Microsoft and Apple are leading the way in a transformation that few could have imagined just a short time ago but here’s the wrinkle for the NonStop community – outsourcing may have run its course but to meet the needs of an expanding NonStop installed base, managed services is on the rise. Just as we have craft beer establishments now growing in popularity at a time when the large breweries have become giant operations, so too is the craft specialist IT “boutique” gaining in popularity right alongside the biggest cloud provider. Simply put, not every business and not every system and solution benefits from a general offering and what we consider as an ideal application for NonStop will continue to see the popularity of NonStop grow right alongside cloud deployments – plan on it!

I can more clearly see the path forward for NonStop now that HPE has the lights shining brightly on NonStop. Better illumination generates more interest and this is followed by more sales which in turn bring more lights to focus on NonStop. Analytics, Database and yes, the ability to run both real and virtual NonStop have all come about in a relative brief period of time – it was only two years ago that news broke about the port of NonStop to the x86 architecture and since then, there has been no letup in the rate of change coming from NonStop development. And it’s no time to simply sit back and continue with business as normal. The very concept of laissez-faire and the status quo should be alien to all of us as the year 2017 starts.

These may have been popular economic sentiments centuries ago but “leaving it to itself” and even that “leaving in the state it was before” (and yes, I am reminded too of just how many of us fondly remember earlier times with Tandem), isn’t an option. HPE is giving us opportunities to really differentiate the way we support the companies we work with (and for) – more reliability with greater performance for the mission critical transactions that keep these companies stay in business. Simplistic? It’s often repeated at user events focused on NonStop, but essentially it’s a truism. Solutions designed not to fail will not fail in delivering solutions – sound familiar? But we have moved beyond simply working with failures as they take place to where we need to think more seriously about our ability to predict failure and to be more prescriptive with our responses to failure.

It was early in 2016 when I wrote a post to the IR web publication, Big Data changes trajectory of application monitoring - Monitoring NonStop boosted by analytics in which I noted how Prognosis is already demonstrating that it is pushing beyond just the visualization of alarms and alerts, together with highlighting potential root causes of problems, to where it is prescriptive in nature; providing operations with a heads-up as to what is about to happen so that businesses can be better prepared to take action. In a similar vein, it was this time last year when I published another post to the Striim blog, I May Be Behind the Wheel, but Very Soon, It’s Likely Striim That Will Keep Me Out of Harm’s Way! Where I suggested how nowhere do we see there being any lessening in the demand for better, timelier, information on changing behavior and so, being able to correlate real world activities with predictive models and apply course corrections all in real time, for the NonStop community it is becoming a necessity and not just a nice to have. Almost every piece of IT infrastructure we can depict will come with some form of stream analytics built in. So yes, I don’t see a single solution not needing integration with analytics and already, following NonStop roadmap updates work is underway to ensure we leave the status quo well and truly behind us!

In the coming weeks I will throw more light onto what’s happening with database and with managed services providers as these are very important developments to which we all should be paying attention. As Tony Craig, CEO at TCM Solutions, keeps reminding me, further sales success for NonStop systems will result in there being the need to deliver tailored, 24 x 7, NonStop solutions around the globe, quickly, efficiently and cost effectively, at a time where trying to find the resource to provide these solutions is, at times (and in places), impossible! But crucially, we are committed to doing all this whilst safeguarding the future of NonStop support by creating an environment that fosters innovation, sharing ideas and learning through each other.  As a specialist IT boutique, gaining in popularity right alongside much bigger, but more generalized, providers, TCM differentiates by its expertise in NonStop, and it has much to gain in 2017 and perhaps, in the case of TCM, my previous references to the craft beer industry should have also included references to the craft Scotch whisky industry.

No, we cannot ignore the lights shining brightly on NonStop nor can we just keep on doing what we have always been doing. With the clients that I have today I am being continually reminded that there is so much to be gained from increasing the marketing in support of NonStop which breaks down into simply funding the creation of more information on the value proposition of NonStop that is directed at the broader IT marketplace. This is something I am focused on for 2017 and after almost a decade of making sure that the lights brought to bear on NonStop are not lost in this broader IT marketplace. And talking of beer and whisky, here’s to a prosperous 2017 for all involved with NonStop and let those spotlights shine brightly!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Mall insights, and NonStop 2016 in review …

With the last post of 2016 we can look back at all the news surrounding NonStop systems and simply acknowledge just how quickly the world of NonStop is changing and yes, changing for the better …

Struggling to exit the local shopping mall with packages in both hands, as Margo and I left it almost to the very last day to finish our Christmas shopping, I took the opportunity this gave me to have a good look around at both the shops and their customers. So much has changed since I went back to strolling malls worldwide a decade or so ago – yes, I had lived in Edmonton, Alberta, as plans were being drawn up to build the West Edmonton Mall, pictured above and still the largest mall in North America (sorry, Minneapolis) – but after the birth of my daughter, Lisa, I found a Saturday morning filled with exploration and yes, of course, fresh donuts, an affable escape from normal routines.

The popularity of malls has ebbed and flowed through the years. Visitors to Silicon Valley who spent time at Tandem Computers will recall both Vallco Shopping and Valley Fair Malls and their trajectories couldn’t have been more opposite if they had tried. Vallco suffered a slow death whereas the mighty Westfield came in and completely resurrected Valley Fair and I can’t recall a trip back to Silicon Valley when I haven’t stopped by the Valley Fair Mall. As with much of what drives success today, those malls doing well have morphed into much more than a string of shops as they include food courts, many of which are now upscale eateries – think steakhouses, popular seafood restaurants and sushi bars – along with theater complexes and even gymnasiums. Someone in Texas will probably email to tell me that somewhere in the Lone Star State there’s a cathedral integrated with the local mall.

Looking back at the three months since the lead to Halloween, it’s as if the country has made a beeline to the mall at some point even as our shopping disposition has changed radically over the past few years. Our last minute visit to the mall only came about when the need arose to take a good look at a potential gift to check out it’s suitability for small children. All of our other shopping this year was done online and for the past week there have been almost daily deliveries of packages. With the combination of inclement weather and crowded parking lots it’s so much easier to shop with clicks than stroll through bricks and mortar. But again, looking back even further than just a couple of months, the number of mall closings hasn’t gone unnoticed and yet, there they stand. Changed in ways unimaginable but still capable of attracting crowds. Monuments to our need to watch fashions, check sizes, touch material and smell the aromas of freshly prepped meals.

When it comes to changes unimaginable, as I look back at the year that is coming to a close, for the NonStop community, 2016 has all been about speed and responsiveness. Traditional systems were being supplanted by alternate methods for computing. The cloud has arrived even if all the cloud really means to many CIOs is that the data center exists somewhere else and its oversight is now someone else’s problem. The arrival of clouds has brought a renewed sense that costs have to be brought under control and that there is a limit to just how much business will pay for systems, software and services. The recent spin-mergers announced by HPE are just a reflection of a return to focus and that generalization and multipurpose aren’t cutting it any more. Even longstanding practices of outsourcing are coming under increased scrutiny as 2016 has represented a period of re-thinking as cloud operators put outsourcing practices under the microscope.

For me, the highlights for 2016 have been many and varied with the most obvious change being the return to favor of user events. The two big events that brought this into perspective were BITUG and Boot Camp. I attended both and it was hard to miss the enthusiasm of all who participated and if you wanted to catch the action, it was always on the exhibition floor no matter how big or small that area was. Of course, there was HPE Discover 2016 in Las Vegas and that didn’t disappoint – the general sessions were all well attended and the background music was more appropriate this year – but over the years it has become purely a HPE marketing “big tent” event and not necessarily a priority for the NonStop community.

It was at Boot Camp that the community was given a brief peek into the future – virtual NonStop (vNonStop) running on a simple commercially available off-the-shelf pair of x86 servers, with Ethernet for the interconnect fabric. If traditional systems were on the way out here, sitting on a table, was possibly one future for NonStop. Maybe not inside the data center but certainly a candidate for consideration for developers, testers and those needing to pilot new applications. Not forgetting that with IoT and the need for edge products, there may be good reasons to begin thinking that x86 servers will start showing up on the edge. As we come to realize that some sensor events are more important than others, fault tolerance will become more relevant and could lead to yet another sea-change with the mission for NonStop.

IoT included in NonStop presentations was a highlight for me as I have had a strong premonition of late that we haven’t really understood all that deploying edge products entail. If a big box retailer fully digitizes the pricing of its entire store and integrates it with their supply chain, down to individual items, than events will be coming thick and fast with many of these events important enough to warrant the presence of fault tolerance. Does an entire retail store warrant edge products as is being promoted right now – again, it’s all a matter of perspective. In a paper to be published shortly, Top 20 Predictions for 2016, by CTO and Cofounder at Striim, Steve Wilkes, that I reference in an upcoming post to the Striim blog, you will read “IoT Platforms will grow in strength and capability incorporating device registration, management and communication features as well as integration, analytics and machine learning.”

According to Steve, “Simple IoT use cases such as the real-time tracking of the movement of people or packages via geolocation and time windowing will become prevalent across healthcare, travel, manufacturing and logistics.” Steve also notes how, in order for timely responses, “Reliability and security concerns will push real-time analytics to edge locations for IoT. This will become evident through connected cars, home IoT hubs, retail store-based gateways and other localized technology. Anonymized data will be pushed to the cloud for deeper analytics.” Reliability eh? I feel the need for fault tolerance in ways I haven’t felt for many years!

NonStop SQL also is making a huge comeback and has made significant strides in its return to center stage in the database arena. There is clearly an emerging division in database offerings with so much discussion centered on data lakes, operational stores, and OLAP. Analytics is on an unstoppable march and will impact every touch point we maintain with customers. But online transaction processing, or OLTP, is still a requirement and when it comes to recording a transaction without any possible interruption in our 24 X 7 world, NonStop SQL now has no peer. Watch for some really big deployments of NonStop SQl in the coming year and watch too, just how much advantage of NonStop SQL HPE itself makes as it further evolves its own transaction processing models. 

Getting to clouds and pushing out to the edge will also see transformation within the central hub – be it a hybrid of a traditional data center with private clouds or fully public cloud based. Making it real simple to integrate NonStop with private (and shortly, I am predicting, public) clouds just makes sense for NonStop development to pursue and already we see the benefits that can come from having NonStop X systems connected to open platforms at the interconnect fabric level. We saw this being demonstrated all year and I am predicting too that in 2017 we will see some sizable solutions vendors capitalize on such features, with OmniPayments being at the fore of such a possibility. And did you see the performance demo late Monday night at Boot Camp – just how well NonStop scales out was showcased by OmniPayments pushing past 5,000 tps and certainly, another highlight for me as I look back at 2016.

Successful malls are reinventing themselves as they work hard to address the changing needs of society. In cities where environments are extreme – think not just of Edmonton but Singapore, the Middle East and yes, Florida, being able to stroll some place warm (or cool) continues to entice many of us from our homes. Shopping will not be the only option at future malls but in essence, they are taking over from the village green. Mix in the pub, a church or two, some light-hearted entertainment and a place to entertain the kids for a few hours and you have history repeating itself. And so too for NonStop. The world of IoT and Analytics is going to need databases both OLAP and OLTP as it will demand fault tolerance all the way to the edge and even as it will demand high performance at reduced cost and in 2016, we all saw for ourselves, NonStop delivered. As for 2017, I just cannot wait to see how this all is applied as the ball has now been passed to solutions providers and I am expecting to read more about the rollout of the new NonStop throughout the coming year.

Happy New Year and bring on 2017!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Extremes of weather, locations and systems and yes, NonStop too relishes extremes!

It’s in the very DNA of NonStop – you want extreme availability, scalability and yes extreme performance and now SQL? Then you got it! And NonStop could prove extremely beneficial for you …

Staring out the back window of our family room what greeted me was a chilled landscape. Overnight the temperatures had dropped some 30 to 40 degrees from the day before. The poolside chairs seemed to be looking on forlornly at a pool and spa no longer serving any purpose. For more than 15 years we have come to expect chilly weather, but this year, with the return of that dreaded Polar Vortex, the overnight lows are having us checking the plumbing each morning to ensure pipes haven’t frozen even as we have raised the thermostats setting. What is depicted above is Boulder, Colorado shivering in -2 degrees, Fahrenheit.  

Texting our good friends in southern California brought us little sympathy. Even though they had been out on the coast celebrating a boating festival, when they returned home they felt compelled to remind us why so many people prefer southern California at this time of year. Taken only a few hours later than my own photo the difference couldn’t be more extreme. Palm trees, clear skies and just out of sight, a grill and bar about to be put to good use as “grillin’ time” had arrived. If all goes to plan in a matter of weeks, Margo and I will be joining our friends, poolside, with thoughts of shivering on chilly Boulder mornings all but forgotten.

Temperature extremes, just a thousand miles apart, are something the good citizens of the U.S. grow accustomed to and there are reasons why so many of them have winter homes in the Sunbelt states. It’s also one reason put forward as to why Silicon Valley continues to be the engine of technology, disruption and innovation. It’s a lot easier to step away from your office and walk to a nearby coffee shop when you don’t have to dress like it’s an Arctic expedition. There may be the occasional moisture-laden breeze blowing in through the Santa Cruz cutting but it’s nothing compared to what much of the rest of the country has to endure and the correlation between warmth and creativity cannot be easily discounted. The once mighty technology engine along route 128 circling Boston used to be competitive to Silicon Valley but those days are long gone and I put much of the discontent that arose at companies dotting both sides of that highway, down to Boston’s miserable winters.

Many years ago I predicted Australia’s Gold Coast as having the potential to be a smaller version of Silicon Valley. My premise was based on there being a great climate, a university nearby albeit a private endeavor about which I have heard little since – Bond University. A major metropolis just up the road in Brisbane and of course, there’s the motion picture studios we heard so much about this year given the restrictions the rest of us have to observe when bringing out pet pouches into the country. According to news releases, late in November, 2016, the “The Queensland Government established Defense Industries Queensland to help create a smart, connected and efficient defense sector within the state.”

Unfortunately, even with the key ingredients of a thriving defense industry, a university and really good weather, the article I wrote for Computerworld was among only a few submissions I made that never saw the light of day. As I had written the article while living in Silicon Valley, the only response I received from this publication’s editor echoed much of the sentiment in Australia at the time, “you must be dreaming!” And yet, there is no hiding the growing expectations of many cities across the globe that they too will be the next Silicon Valley. On the other hand Silicon Valley with its universities, warm weather and proximity to multiple government agencies is really more than the sum of the parts and as such is seen today as the engine behind extreme disruptions. 

When it comes to extremes it would be hard to ignore just how extreme NonStop continues to be – after so many decades have passed, extreme availability and indeed extreme scale out, remain the cornerstones of NonStop systems today. From every corner of the globe have come attempts to build systems almost as good as NonStop, but over time, they have all faded into the background. Perhaps the biggest complement being paid to NonStop today is that modern server farms allow individual servers to fail with what constitutes a modern day load-balancing algorithm that redistributes the workload even as transactions come to a halt and data is lost.

I know as I have experienced it many times with the only explanation provided by the site that there has been an error, and, can you start over? Whether it’s an ecommerce transaction or simply posting to a blog, not a week goes by without being informed I have to go back to the start and re-enter because what I had been doing didn’t complete. And yes, the dreaded “unexpected error” message is always heartwarming as it is highly informative. Whenever I mention this to my peers unfamiliar with NonStop the only response I get is that well, get over it. Get back to work!

To say that when working with applications running on NonStop, they keep me working, may be a bit extreme but the sentiment isn’t lost on anyone familiar with NonStop. Perhaps the single most important aspect of NonStop that is so often overlooked is the extent to which NonStop development has gone to ensure backward compatibility. If you wrote if for a NonStop 1, you can still run it today. Try explaining this to your friends submitting to open source projects. And a fully operational mixed workload RDBMS and SQL where maintenance can be performed without taking down the database.

If you missed the post of October 2, 2015,
How many DBAs does it take to change a light-bulb should it not be NonStop? you may recall this quote. “We update statistics and query plans on a monthly basis, for most objects and we do it on the fly!” Rob Lesan, formerly of AOL and now part of the vendor community, confirmed all of the above before adding “maintenance? Truly, we run reorgs, statistics, splits, column adds, etc. all without taking anything down. It’s the NonStop fundamentals!” Talk about extreme SQL well, it doesn’t get more extreme than this – show this to your Oracle or SQL Server DBAs and see what conversation then develops. 

Furthermore, as HPE IT embraces NonStop SQL/MX and looks to deploy as a DBaaS, it’s not because they have to as in NonStop SQL/MX is a HPE product, but rather, the advantages that come with NonStop SQL/MX simply make alternatives a nonstarter. Like the majority of stakeholders in the NonStop community, it will be an interesting year ahead for everyone as we watch and wait for more news coming out of HPE IT on this major undertaking and I am sure those of the NonStop community making it to HPE Discover 2017 in Las Vegas will be looking forward to hearing more about this project.

If you want to think more about extremes, just think that HPE acknowledged they had 25,000 databases that they supported. If NonStop SQL/MX reduces this count by 20% or even 30% think of how many licenses to vendors apart from HPE can be retired. But again, this all comes back to the innovation that went into NonStop – looking at every aspect of the full NonStop stack, from the metal to the user interface, to ensure there is no single point of failure with no requirement to ever kill a process. And today with active-active data replication solutions readily available for NonStop two, three, five and more centers can be integrated to the point where even forklift upgrades can be seamlessly accommodated with zero downtime. Extreme? You have to believe it; nothing “steady as you go” or even “middle of the road” when it comes to NonStop.

As a society we are often wary of extremes. When it’s really cold we stay indoors. On the other hand, when it’s particularly conducive to imaginative blue-sky dreaming, oftentimes we find ourselves drawn to such environments. Silicon Valley is extreme. NonStop is extreme. That NonStop was created in Silicon Valley is understandable. Perhaps as NonStop X and vNonStop enter the mainstream a larger proportion of the user community will come to realize that systems don’t have to break and applications don’t have to go down and that service can be provided 24 X 7 without interruption. Extreme? You bet, but then again, shouldn’t technology that we value, as all about us undergoes change, be extreme? Or, am I still just dreaming?       

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Will “The Machine” be everywhere? Is there a plan for NonStop?

Progress continues to be made on The Machine with the first working prototype unveiled at HPE Discover 2016 (London). Could future NonStop hybrid systems leverage future iterations of The Machine?

This week I came across an article in, of all things, Composites Worlds. It was in response to a Google search for technology appearing in manufacturer’s prototypes that eventually is adopted within existing product lines. The article began with, “Already used in series production of structural carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) parts for BMW’s (Munich, Germany) i3 and i8 models, high-pressure resin transfer molding (HP-RTM) is viewed by some as new technology. To others, it is merely modernization of early RTM processes, like that used to build Dodge Viper parts 25 years ago!”

In several auto magazines it has already been highlighted that perhaps the single most important outcome of the development of the hybrid BMW i8 was not the new power unit but the fine-tuning of the almost-continuous forming process for carbon fiber-reinforced plastic. Once the dominant material for exotic and super-expensive F1 and Indy cars, where lightweight and strenght influenced the choice of materials, mastering this manufacturing process (as evidently BMW has now done) is likely to prove a game changer for BMW.

This past week HPE Discover 2016 (for Europe) was held in London. While much of the material presented was a repeat of the HPE Discover 2016 (for Americas) held in Las Vegas the attendees in London were given a more complete update on The Machine. I happened to be in the audience in Las Vegas back in June 2014 when then HPE CTO, Martin Fink, first unveiled the HP Labs project that would lead to the manufacturing of The Machine and I was among the crowd that sensed an imminent sea change in the design of the computers that had been in use for half a century. So this update on The Machine was as interesting to me as was the article on mastering the production of carbon fiber-reinforce plastic! 

And why? Repositioning memory and moving it to the center of a computer while pushing the processing to the periphery, all while upping the amount of memory that would be in the center (no need to think of storage hierarchies), and then relying on optics / photons for super-fast access, well, it doesn’t get much better than this! As the news broke about The Machine in the summer of 2014, I published the post
This changes everything! and at that time I remarked that when Martin Fink walked us through the technology all you needed to remember was that “electrons compute, photons communicate, and ions store.”

Furthermore, I also observed how The Machine was essentially going to be four projects – the development of the special purpose processors, the photonics and the massive memory as well as a new clean-sheet operating system and stack and how, with the announcement of The Machine, it would carry the hopes of HPE for the next 25 years. At the conclusion of Martin’s reveal back in 2014, HP CEO, Meg Whitman, then told all present in the auditorium, “This changes everything!” But will it change everything, really? Or has The Machine become little more than a much-hyped “concept” and a “styling exercise” similar to what we so often see at car shows.

Through the years I have attended many car shows from London, to Sydney to LA and even Denver. And I have to admit that oftentimes, I made my way to these futuristic displays highlighting where auto manufacturers were devoting their resources. It’s also rather serendipitous that the Composites World article at the top of this post referenced the Dodge Viper and the BMW i8, as car shows influenced me to buy the Viper a few years ago just as they influenced me to buy the i8.

However, having admitted to how easily I am influenced by car companies’ concept cars, I see a lot of similarities with HPE and The Machine. HPE has continued to invest in The Machine even when much of the industry remained unconvinced that the project would lead to The Machine changing everything. And yet, here we are, two plus years later, and HPE has unveiled the first working prototype of The Machine. In reality it was a hybrid utilizing rather unique, and clearly “prototype”, packaging.

There was no evidence of memristors present in this package. The picture at the top of this post was included in the November 29, 2016, article in The Register,
RIP HPE's The Machine product, 2014-2016: We hardly knew ye. While I am not a big fan of this publication or of the flamboyant nature of its reporting, nevertheless, it is widely read and has often included coverage of NonStop systems. More importantly, the article did include a couple of useful PowerPoint slides that were part of the update provided in London.

I have since talked to a number of HPE senior managers in marketing and development and it’s very important to recall the mission of The Machine. With the headlong rush into analytics, big data and IoT the volume and velocity of data was going to stretch the boundaries of conventional processing to the limits and beyond. Already, experts were dialing back our expectations telling us we couldn’t expect to process all the data and yet, with The Machine, the simple response was, “why not?” The intersection between real time analytics and online transaction processing was nearing reality and for the NonStop community, this intersection now looks to be close at hand.

And yet, in time, even with filtering hierarchies “lightweight, as well as heavy,” the sheer velocity of data arriving at our data centers is going to push the boundaries of conventional computing not only past accepted limits (the end of Moore’s Law) but generate considerable headshaking about just what we could do next (the end of
von Neumann architecture). With the prototype of The Machine demonstrating an increase in performance that was 8,000 times that of existing computers, suddenly these headshakers had something to consider and we can only assume 8,000 times is just the beginning. And yet, will this prototype carry over into production and will transactional systems like NonStop have an opportunity to leverage the properties of The Machine?

It is this last bullet point on the HPE slide above that The Register reproduced that had me rethinking much of what I had expected from The Machine. While it proved to be the lead-in for further speculation, on the part of The Register, for me it simply reinforced a belief I have held for some time. Could a hybrid comprising NonStop with an instance of some derivative of The Machine lead to better integration between the world of transaction processing and analytics? Could a hybrid of vNonStop treat an instance of The Machine as a specialty co-processor – one with unlimited memory capable of handling the biggest in-memory database?

I will be the first to admit that I haven’t heard of any NonStop user considering such a hybrid configuration. Indeed I haven’t heard of any user experiencing any problems with the performance of NonStop X. In fact, when it comes to NonStop X I have been hearing the exact opposite – how can we capitalize on all the added performance on offer today? Furthermore, with vNonStop coming to market in the near future, NonStop will have a lot more opportunities to capitalize on all the cores on offer where there’s potential to eke out even more performance.

As we come to understand more about The Machine, we know it isn’t leveraging an x86 architecture so there’s no prospect of NonStop running on The Machine. Analytics should run really well on any derivative of The Machine even as NonStop will run well on NonStop X and with vNonStop, on any x86 server. OLAP meets OLTP – it may be an oversimplification but the world of analytics is intersecting with transaction processing. And let’s not forget that this may play well to those in the NonStop community already deploying Striim, for instance

So, what does The Machine really bring to the table for today’s NonStop user? NonStop still needs to find ways to attract more solutions to NonStop even as NonStop needs to convince a much broader community that it’s really easy to consume NonStop in terms of adding NonStop key attributes to their solutions with little to no additional effort. The work NonStop development has underway with NS SQL/MX to make it compatible with Oracle for instance, is adding considerable value to the NonStop value proposition. None of these programs draws from The Machine in any way and yet, I am still left to wonder, should we still concern ourselves with what HPE tells us about The Machine?

On the other hand, don’t be dissuaded from following progress on The Machine by what has appeared in The Register as other news correspondents have proved to be more upbeat about the future of The Machine. As a concept there is still a long way to go and for the NonStop community, it’s more a case of looking over our shoulders at what may show up in products by 3PAr, Aruba, and even high-end High Performance Computing.  

In the December 6, 2016, article in Forbes magazine,
HPE Discover London 2016: Company Did What They Needed To Do, its reporter Patrick Moorhead told his readers that as, “Whitman wrapped up Day 1’s General Session with the announcement that HPE had successfully demoed the first memory-driven computing architecture - the Machine is now officially in prototype mode. This is a really big deal as I can count hundreds of detractors who said that would never happen and that what they did was so hard to do.”

According to Moorhead, Whitman told the attendees that “HPE’s roadmap for the next several years would include the incorporation of various Machine technologies (such as silicon photonics, advanced non-volatile memory, and memory fabric) into HPE’s portfolio. She went on to say that HPE is also taking steps to, in her words, ‘future proof’ their new product lines, so that they will be able to continue incorporating the new technology as it develops.”

Furthermore, Moorhead saw “The Machine has enabled HPE to build an IP war chest which can be valuable in many ways … As I said in the introduction, HPE didn’t have to say everything, but they said what they needed to say. I’m encouraged by the focus and innovation I’ve seen demonstrated at the past several Discover events—I’ll continue to follow with interest.” And if The Machine is all about reinforcing yet another image of innovation within HPE then I can’t really argue with that.

We may not see The Machine anytime soon other than as a concept on display in exhibition halls. But there may be some potential to leverage aspects of The Machine as they become available – could we see a specialty co-processor that’s akin to a (really big) CLIM in NonStop’s future? If not CLIM, per se, a follow-on to Moonshot? I am not going to rule out such a possibility and the good news for NonStop? When it comes to game-changers within HPE then, as a community, we do need to think seriously about how far we have come with NonStop in such a very short time and as we think more deeply about NonStop then perhaps we can see that we already have our game changer. And it’s NonStop!